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9 Things That Need to Change for Women Giving Birth in the U.S.

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

The times are a changing, guys. I really do believe this.

The U.S. is notorious for simultaneously placing mothers on a pedestal like saints, while also completely ignoring them when it comes to policies that govern, you know, everyday life. Not everyone is a nuclear family with a stay-at-home wife and lots of disposable income — and women are pushing for changes that matter to our health.

Unfortunately, the disparity in how American women experience childbirth starts right from the beginning of their journeys. After seeing countless women welcome their babies into the world through years as an OB nurse and growing four of my own human beings, I have to say that there is still a lot that we can improve upon to make having a baby a healthier and happier experience.

Here are nine aspects of how women give birth in the United States that need to change, pronto:

1. Doctors over midwives.

This one just makes sense. For low-risk, healthy pregnancies, there is just no reason why doctors should be the primary care providers. Much like the uncomplicated things you see a Nurse Practitioner or a Physician’s Assistant for in the office, for uncomplicated pregnancies and births, Nurse Midwives should be the ones overseeing the care. Every single country where women see midwives for low-risk pregnancies and births displays better outcomes for both mothers and babies. In the U.S., over 3.5. million births are overseen by a doctor, while only 320,000 are with a nurse-midwife.

2. Options for pain control.

In the U.S., the majority of women giving birth vaginally choose an epidural for their pain control during labor. But, there aren’t always a lot of other reliable, effective options, and let’s face it — epidurals are significantly easier on the healthcare staff taking care of a laboring women.

But we shouldn’t limit ourselves with what we know and what’s convenient. There are many other effective options for pain control that we don’t necessarily see here in the states. Exhibit A: laughing gas. This method is popular in Europe and Canada because it’s temporary (the effects pretty much wear off instantly), completely patient-controlled, and very cost-effective. And there are no proven side effects on mom or baby. When can we get some?

3. Postpartum care.

The duration of postpartum hospital stays can vary among countries — we all saw recently, for example, how Duchess Kate left the hospital less than 8 hours after giving birth, while most women in the U.S. are mandated to stay at least 24 hours after a vaginal delivery. The biggest difference, however, is what happens after the hospital discharge.

Great Britain may have women routinely go home only hours after birth, but they certainly don’t send them on their merry way and tell them to check back in six weeks for the green light to have sex again like we do. Instead, most other countries have midwives and nurses visit new mothers at home, ensuring that their mental and physical health is stable, all while providing vital education and support during a very confusing time.

The World Health Organization recommends daily home visits for at least one week after birth, and also three additional postnatal contacts with all mothers and newborns, on day 3 (48–72 hours), between days 7–14 after birth, and six weeks after birth.

4. The day-old pediatrician visit.

Is there anything worse than dragging your leaking, aching, oozing postpartum body to the doctor’s office a day or two after birth, and risking infecting your precious newborn baby with the hosts of germs lurking on every surface of the place? It just makes no sense for either mother or baby’s health, and it’s high time the U.S. jumped on the at-home check-ups bandwagon.

5. Immediate cord clamping.

Worldwide policies towards immediate cord clamping have started to change. But, like most things related to women’s health care, the U.S. will probably be trailing behind. The evidence now overwhelmingly points to the benefits of waiting at least one minute after birth before clamping the cord. (Most doctors currently only wait a second or two.)

6. Maternity leave.

It feels like we’re talking around in circles here, but I have to believe that eventually, all of our talk will translate into action, because it’s ludicrous that the U.S. is the only developed country in the world without guaranteed maternity leave.

7. The pressure to “bounce back.”

How about instead of “bouncing back,” we move forward? How about instead of trying to erase every indication that our bodies housed human beings, we accept, embrace, and nourish? 

8. Pretty much everything about labor.

The current U.S. model of: go to the hospital, get hooked up to an IV, sit in a bed for hours, don’t eat anything just in case you get an emergency C-section, get strapped to a monitor that records every second of your baby’s heartbeat, and then give birth with an epidural while your legs are up in stirrups? Totally antiquated.

Here’s some real talk for you — IVs are not necessary for low-risk mothers, labor is best spent freely walking, drinking, and eating, those monitors actually lead to more fetal complications, and giving birth on your back is pretty much the worst idea ever.

 9. The do-it-all-yourself mentality.

I really appreciate the honestly of moms like Sarah Stewart Holland of Bluegrass Redhead, who not only accept help post-birth, but have no shame in it. She moved in with her parents for weeks after her sons were born. “I basically had around-the-clock care even after Nicholas went back to work,” she writes. “My mom brought me water while I breastfed, did the laundry, cooked our meals, and held the baby while we slept. It was glorious.”

It does sound glorious, and dare I say — enviable? I admit that when I had help (when a combination of mother-in-laws/mother/aunts took my big kids for me) after having my youngest kids, I felt slightly guilty, like I was getting away with something. But how ridiculous are we? When did we get this idea that flying solo post-birth is the “norm” and anything else is a luxury?

It’s almost like as modern-day mothers, we have encountered so much hostility and loneliness that we have awarded ourselves “Motherhood: The New Brave Frontier” badges, and expect all moms to go through the same isolating, flying solo struggle that we did. We talk about sleepless nights, mastitis, and postpartum depression like they are our battle wounds — but what if it didn’t have to be that way?

Maybe if we stopped treating other moms who receive help as outliers, we could expect the same for not only ourselves, but for all mothers everywhere.

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