Birth in the U.S.A.: The big picture

    In July 2009, we asked Our365 moms to answer a series of questions about your birth experiences. Almost 12,000 moms of babies born in the past two years completed the survey.

    If your most recent birth experience was also your first one, you're in the majority: one half of the mothers surveyed have one baby; one quarter have two; and three percent have five children or more - next time you're looking for labor tips, try looking for them from a mom of four, five or six in Our Community's pregnancy forums!

    On balance, moms are having positive birthing experiences - even when they're not exactly what you'd expected or close to what you'd dreamed of. Maybe that's not surprising: Dreams aside, when you leave the hospital with your new baby-love, what do you have to complain about?

    Before the Birth

    This hospital, that hospital - how to choose Moms have many reasons for choosing the hospital where they'll give birth; the biggest one (no surprise) is doctor affiliation. Recommendation from another mom, or the hospital's reputation, is reason number two, and proximity to home or work is also important. But for some women, the choice is more emotional than practical: many moms chose the hospital where they gave birth because they were born there!

    Childbirth education - what do moms learn? We were surprised to discover that slightly less than half of all moms receive childbirth education at their birthing hospital. Those who do end up feeling well prepared for the birth process and learn a lot about drugs and medications, along with medical procedures like episiotomy - but don't get much info about the baby's development in utero or how to manage labor pain without medication. Most important learning for the post-birth period: how to breastfeed. On the other hand, moms don't think it's important to learn about self- care postpartum.

    Those scary feelings Every mom is troubled by some fears during pregnancy. Almost 75 percent worry - needlessly, for the most part - that something will be wrong with the baby or something will happen to the baby during birth. One third of the moms surveyed were concerned that they wouldn't be able to make ends meet as new parents. Not surprisingly given the C-section rate (see below), quite a few moms worry that they'll be rushed into the operating room for an emergency Caesarean. Others are filled with anxiety that they won't know how to take care of their babies or be good enough moms.

    The Birth Itself

    C-section? In the 1960s, around 5% of babies were born by C-section. A decade ago, that number had risen to 15%. In 2006 (the last year for which official figures are available) the rate was 31%, and today, according to our survey, almost 35% of babies are born by Caesarian section - a planned procedure in some cases, most likely because of the perceived risk of giving birth vaginally after you've already had a Caesarian.

    A "Natural" birth Less than half of all moms plan to try for an unmedicated birth; if you were hoping to "go natural" but ended up being medicated, you're in the majority - a little more than a third of moms who want to avoid drugs end up doing so. (Some moms in our survey who expected to be medicated ended up with such speedy labors, they ended up having natural births!) How do the drug-free fare? Most learn and use Lamaze or some other type of patterned breathing to help them cope with pain (comes in handy at the dentist, too!) and many try controlled relaxation. A lucky few have a doula and/or hypnobirth therapist available to help.
    Lots of moms dream of using a birthing tub, massage and relaxing music during labor - only a few get what they dream of.

    Who "owns" the birthing experience? Overwhelmingly, moms say "yes," despite dreams unfulfilled - and that the hospital staff respected their wishes as much as was possible.