Too many first-time moms get C-sections

The most telling finding of a new study on cesarean sections in hospitals in the United States is that 31.2 percent of first-time mothers had C-sections.

"Reducing primary cesarean delivery is the key" to bringing down the overall C-section rate, the researchers concluded. In 2007, the last year studied, America's C-section rate stood at 32 percent, a new high.

The study, an analysis of nearly 229,000 births at 19 hospitals between 2002 and 2008 published on-line ahead of a print article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was conducted under the aegis of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The study found that 44 percent of women attempting a vaginal delivery were induced. Half of the women who had C-sections for dystocia — slow or difficult labor — were cervically dilated to less than 6 cm, far short of the 10 cm dilation that signals that birth is imminent, when the decision was made to operate.

Of the 29 percent of women in the study who had previous C-sections, and were allowed a trial of labor, 57 percent delivered vaginally.

The overall cesarean rate was 30.5 percent.

The abstract of the study concludes, "To decrease cesarean delivery rate in the United States, reducing primary cesarean delivery is the key. Increasing vaginal birth after previous cesarean rate (sic) is urgently needed. Cesarean section for dystocia should be avoided before the active phase is established, particularly in nulliparous women and in induced labor."

Many of the births included in the study took place at teaching hospitals, where more complicated birth often land, the study's authors noted.

Life is a beach

This is my 101st post! With summer winding down, I'm heading into triple digits.

I love this time of year because it promises a fresh start. Shopping for school supplies with my daughter Maeve, I like to buy a few pens and notebooks of my own, just to get that sense of excitement a new school year brings.

What ideas do I have for Birth Story this fall? I have been an independent writer for 10 weeks now, but more of a full-time mom, really. Now I have to get back to work in earnest. I'm looking forward to it.

Empty beach

One resolution is to do more multimedia posts. This morning, I took my trusty camera (a Mother's Day present) to Foster Beach, a mile or so from my house in Chicago. I wanted a picture to evoke the end of summer — an empty beach. As you can see above, I got that picture. There was indeed a stretch of sand and birds and little else.

However, I can show you other aspects of Foster Beach as it looked this morning as well. I can show you this:

Two umbrellas at the beach

And even this, from a tiny dog beach at the north end:

St. Bernard

This weekend, Foster Beach will host two entire triathlons plus a leg of another one. It will look very different from the way it looked today.

I couldn't help thinking, while I was framing my "empty beach" shot on this busy strand, that every one of my posts  is a kind of snapshot as well.

No one of them tells the whole story. Even all 101 taken together don't tell the whole story. But I am telling the Birth Story as I understand it, one post at a time. Thanks for joining me.

We dream for our children

My children are 10 years apart in age, and one thing that has struck me since Maeve's birth almost 13 years ago is how much more complicated the world grows as they get older.

When children are small, you can see clearly how their perfect lives will roll out. You can see them graduating from Harvard — or perhaps Yale; you devote serious time to considering which would be better — going into law or medicine, gliding along until they finish up as President of the United States. Along the way, of course, there will be sports trophies, prom dresses, all the trimmings.

Reality sets in gradually. It turns out the kids have learning disabilities, or strange hair, or no interest in sports — whatever, and likely in multiples. Ten years or so after spinning all those perfect dreams, you might find yourself praying they'll finish high school. Or even, please, God, let them stay alive through high school.

When Maeve was in preschool, I remember sitting in a group listening to moms in the Harvard vs. Yale stage, while my mind was on the then-exotic sensation some teen-aged boys in Nora's vast social network had created by sending nude pictures of girls they had probably known since kindergarten out across the Internet. I remember thinking that perhaps I had seen some of those boys, and those girls, on swings in the park or at a library reading hour when they too were small.

What I mean to say is that many of the things that seem critical when children are little get put firmly in perspective as they grow.

Poking around Lisa Belkin's Motherlode blog on the New York Times website this week, I landed on a post called "A Breast-Feeding Guru Who Uses Formula," which attracted me because I have been writing about breast-feeding. Through Belkin, I discovered Katie Allison Granju and her mamapundit blog. (I know, where have I been?)

Granju is a writer and digital-media expert who has become an authority on breast-feeding. Nevertheless, she found with her fifth child, Georgia, now seven weeks old, that she was unable to breast-feed. "I did have colostrum for the first week or two, but I never got the full enchilada," she writes in a post on Babble.com.

She tried "pumping, herbs, supplemental nursing system, plenty of skin to skin with baby, nursing on demand, nipple shields," all to no avail.

She is "resigned" now to the fact that Georgia is a bottle-fed baby, and she does what she can to inject warmth and meaning into an experience she never expected a child of hers to have.

But Granju believes that a horrific recent event in her life has contributed to her inability to breast-feed.

"I suspect that the biggest factor in my inability to produce milk at the moment is that my oldest child died in my arms only a few weeks before G was born. God only knows what the shock of that experience did to my body and its normal functioning," she wrote.

The death of Granju's son Henry from a drug overdose is about as terrible as this world gets. We dream for our children but they live the lives we give them. My heart goes out to the Granjus.

Pushing back against home-birth critics

British and Australian midwives are pushing back against a recent editorial in The Lancet, a British medical journal, which builds on a study released last month that appears to show that home births are less safe than those that occur in a hospital.

"Women have the right to choose how and where to give birth, but they do not have the right to put their baby at risk," stated the unsigned editorial from July 31.Pregnant Graffiti

In an interview today with the Guardian, a British newsaper, Cathy Warwick, the general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said that midwives believe home birth is "being unfairly pilloried by some sectors of the global medical maternity establishment."

Hannah Dahlen, the president of the Australian College of Midwives, weighed in as well. "Intense medical lobbying and strategically released journal articles" had put midwifery in her country "in the hands of the medical profession," she said.

Warwick said, "What shocked us about The Lancet editorial was its language and tone and how it pumped the hype about the dangers of home birth, and made sweeping and misogynistic statements."

"The Lancet said it stood by its editorial," wrote Randeep Ramesh in the Guardian article.

The impetus for the piece in The Lancet was a meta-analysis scheduled for release next month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a peer-reviewed journal published jointly by a number of organizations that includes the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. The meta-analysis was presented at the SMFM meeting in Chicago in February.

The article, published on-line last month, "provides the strongest evidence so far that home birth can, after all, be harmful to newborn babies," according to The Lancet editorial.

Home births account for about 3 percent of births in the United Kingdom, according to the article in The Lancet; in the United States, the figure is about 1 percent.

American midwifery groups and out-of-hospital birth advocates like The Big Push for Midwives have already questioned the findings of the AJOG article.

The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services called the report a "poorly designed and methodologically unsound study," expressed itself "outraged" that AJOG accepted it for publication, and suggested the report was rushed on-line as a ploy to stop legislation then pending (since signed into law) in New York that will make the practice of midwifery easier in that state.

"Pregnant Graffiti" by Petteri Sulonen

Putting motherhood on the clock

One of Hanna Rosin's grievances against breast-feeding in "The Case Against Breast-Feeding," her article last year in The Atlantic, is that it prevents women from doing work that would be more productive, or at least more lucrative.

"It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way," she wrote.

Hello? This week alone, as the mother of a 12-year-old at the end of summer vacation, I have spent a morning at the beach, an entire day at a water park, and an afternoon turning Gatorade bottles into papier mache fish. Need I say that no one gave me one shiny dime for any of this activity?

To the extent that women do it themselves, motherhood is a career-wrecker. Six months or so of exclusive breast-feeding at the front end seems hardly worth mentioning.

I have not worked more than 30 hours a week (most years much less) since my older daughter, Nora, was born almost 23 years ago. It was my choice, but I paid a price in diminished salary and less prestigious assignments — in opportunities.

Even so, I would do it again if I got a do-over.

Why is that? Because I can't think of anything I would rather have than time and relationships with my husband and my children. That was true when the girls were little, and it's true now.

Nora has moved 2,000 miles away this summer. When she calls me, I drop everything to talk with her. And even though, if I added up our phone/Skype sessions, the total would probably look like a serious time commitment, I don't ever worry about how much valuable time I'm losing.

(For a twist on this perspective, see "Putting a Price on Motherhood" in today's New York Times.)