Pregnancy and birth are normal, healthy processes for most women, the vast majority of whom have healthy pregnancies and babies. But when was the last time you saw a newspaper article titled “3.5 Million American Women Had Normal Labors and Healthy Babies This Year” or a TV episode that showed a healthy woman giving birth to a healthy newborn, without a sense of emergency or a heroic rescue?
The media’s preference for portraying emergency situations, and doctors saving babies, sends the message that birth is fraught with danger. Other factors, including the way doctors are trained, financial incentives in the health care system, and a rushed, risk-averse society, also contribute to the popular perception that childbirth is an unbearably painful, risky process to be “managed” in a hospital with the use of many tests, drugs, and procedures. In such an environment, the high-tech medical care that is essential for a small proportion of women and babies has become the norm for almost everyone. (To learn more, see Maternity Care Today.)
Some advocates for childbearing women describe this as a “climate of doubt” that increases women’s anxiety and fear. In contrast, a climate of confidence focuses on our bodies’ capacity to give birth. Such a climate reinforces women’s strengths and abilities and minimizes fear. Some of the factors that nourish a climate of confidence include high-quality prenatal care; healthy food and time to rest and exercise; a safe work and home environment; childbearing leave; clear, accurate information about pregnancy and birth; encouragement, love, and support from those close to you; and skilled and compassionate health care providers.
Some of these conditions can be achieved only through collective efforts to fix major problems in our maternity care system; others are more likely to be within your personal control. The information in the articles on this website aims to help you prepare for a safe and healthy birth and understand and navigate the U.S. maternity care system.