Birth Story 2010

Following one topic, childbirth, for an entire year has given me an unusual perspective on what is happening on that front, both here in the United States and also globally.

If you ask me, the newly apparent muscle of the holistic birth community was the most important “birth story” of 2010. One sign of this was the passage of the so-called Midwifery Modernization Act in New York, which eliminated a requirement that midwives obtain a written practice agreement from a physician or hospital to practice in New York State.Pregnant Graffiti

Also, as we just discovered from a new report from the Centers for Disease Control, released last week, birth by Cesarean section reached a new high, 32.9 percent of births in 2009, up from 32.3 in 2008. The steadily rising rate — up every year since 1996, when the rate was 20.7 — has been a major story all year.

That CDC report also showed the birth rate for U.S. teen-agers hit its lowest level last year since records began to be kept seventy years ago — 39.1 births per 1,000 teens, down from 41.5 per 1,000 in 2008. The record low held true for all racial and ethnic groups.

A couple of other big birth stories of 2010, sadly, revolved around the fact that too many mothers are still dying in childbirth.

In March, Amnesty International called out the American childbirth establishment on a rising rate of maternal mortality in a report called “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA.” The human-rights advocacy organization pointed out that while the United States spends more on health care than any other country in the world, “maternal mortality ratios have increased from 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006.”

Many other groups joined in that call for changes to improve birth safety in this country.

Meanwhile, in the developing world, the United Nations’ Millennium Goal 5, which aims to bring down rates of maternal mortality by three-quarters in places like sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, is the subject of much scrutiny, with a major push in some places creating bright spots in what appears to be a generally gloomy picture with just five years to go.

Pregnant Graffiti by Petteri Sulonen / Wikimedia Commons

Four good trends for the world’s women

"Women have long delivered for society, and, slowly, society is at last delivering for women. This is a moment to celebrate—and accelerate," The Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton wrote in a commentary that accompanied the publication of a new survey on global maternal mortality the British journal published on Monday.

Four factors associated with maternal mortality are moving in a good direction in many areas of the world, according to the study published this week, which was discussed in the previous post here on Birth Story.

First, the global total fertility rate (TFR), which reflects births per woman, has come down considerably, from 3.7 children in 1980, to 2.6 in 2008. That is a good thing, as the TFR is closely associated with maternal mortality.

Secondly, per capita income is also up, especially in Asia and Latin America. When families have more money, women get more nourishing food, and are more likely to get access to medical care.

Women are also more likely to get some education than they were 30 years ago, which bodes well for a society in which mothers can give birth in a safe environment. Women 25 to 44 years of age in sub-Saharan Africa had 1.5 years of school in 1980, but now have 4.4 years of school on average.

And lastly, women are more likely to have skilled birth attendants in 2008 than they were thirty years ago. "Some large countries such as India have witnessed quite rapid increases in skilled birth attendance in recent years," the study reports.

Forceps/vacuum birth hazard: Asia survey

One big surprise of the WHO survey of Asian births was that "operative vaginal delivery" -- the use of forceps or vacuum -- had the highest death rate for mothers of any method.

Ninety-seven women died during the 108,000 surveyed births. Of those, 53 died during spontaneous vaginal births, as would be expected, given that those were the majority of births (75,000 deliveries), for a rate of less than .1 percent.

However, of 3,465 OVD births, nine mothers died, a rate of nearly .3 percent. In a commentary that accompanied the WHO report in the medical journal The Lancet, the editors called the figures "a sobering reminder of the dangers of operative deliveries," although they noted that most OVDs are "high-risk situations that cannot be easily avoided."

Twenty-three of the 16,500 mothers having Caesaean sections "with indications" during labor died (more than .1 percent), and one woman died of the 554 having elective C-sections during labor (a rate of nearly .2 percent).

The report also found that women undergoing elective Caesarean section were  far more likely to spend time after the birth in intensive care than women whose births were spontaneous.

The irony is that while many unnecessary C-sections are being performed in some areas, women in other areas who desperately need them are not able to get them, the WHO report notes.

Birth in Asia — The WHO survey

The rising rate of birth by Caesarean sections has hit Asia, with China reporting that 46 percent of its births now end in surgery, according to a global survey by the World Health Organization reported in the medical journal The Lancet.

Nine countries were targeted in the WHO study -- Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam -- with births in both small and large institutions examined for two or three months in the capital city and two other regions in each country. In all, about 108,000 births were scrutinized at 122 institutions.

China had the highest rate of Caesarean births in the survey. The country with the next-highest rate was Vietnam, with 36 percent, followed by Thailand, with 34 percent, and Sri Lanka, with 31 percent.

Cambodia had the lowest rate of Caesarean births, 15 percent, which is the rate the WHO and other health groups recommend. The C-section rate over all for the Asian countries surveyed was 27 percent.