Photo: Anna Bortnikova/Shutterstock

6 Birthing Practices From Around the World That the US Should Adopt

United States Wellness Student Work
by Shannon Dell Jul 2, 2015

1. Laughing gas instead of epidurals

Considering labor has been compared to stretching your upper lip over the back of your head, it’s not difficult to see why over 60% of women in the United States receive an epidural during vaginal birth. One percent, however, opt for inhaled analgesia — either nitrous oxide or flurane derivatives — which is an odorless and tasteless gas inhaled from a handheld mask. You know, the stuff that makes going to the dentist just slightly less god-awful.

But it’s not just a distraction from the intensity of childbirth. It’s also easy to administer with effects kicking in within a minute, non-invasive, and safe for the baby since the mother’s lungs filter the gas. Studies from the UK reveal that the 60% of women use this method of pain relief with no increased need for forceps, vacuum, or Cesarean section. Not to mention it gives the woman a sense of control — if she doesn’t like it, she can always remove the mask, cutting the effects almost immediately.

So why is there such a low percentage of US women using inhaled analgesia over epidurals? In addition to only 19 hospitals and 14 birthing centers in the US offering this method of pain relief, women here typically want the strongest available choice — even if that means a massive needle to the lower back over some laughing gas.

2. Squatting during labor

In certain parts of the developing world — such as parts of Asia, Africa, and the Americas — women squat during labor, conflicting with pretty much every Hollywood depiction of the woman on her back, feet up in stirrups, and screaming about how much she wants to punch her husband in the balls. But studies show that women who squat, on average, experience a shorter first stage of labor and are 27% less likely to need an epidural than women who lie on their backs. This is mainly due to more pressure on abdominal blood vessels when on the back, which weaken contractions and render them less effective, increasing the need for a Cesarean section. Squatting, on the other hand, teams up with gravity to encourage a less complicated and easier delivery. To put it simply, you’re gonna want gravity on your side.

3. Paid paternity leave

Being the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid leave for new mothers, it’s no secret that the US is effed in terms of maternity. Those who take unpaid leave anyway? About 43% leave work voluntarily at some point during their career.

And then there’s Iceland. Not only does this country offer three paid months at 80% salary for new mothers, they also reserve three months for the father and three months to be shared between both parents. Twenty-five percent of women in the United States, on the other hand, go back to work within ten days of giving birth. This maternal whiplash can cause health and financial difficulties, such as poor recovery, an increase in postpartum depression, and an inability to keep a consistent breastfeeding schedule.

And to make things even more screwed, it can also affect the gender pay gap. In a study by the University of Massachusetts, results reveal that for every child a woman has, her salary decreases by 4%. Lower-wage workers are penalized even more. However, for men, becoming a dad increases their earnings by more than 6%. Additionally, when companies offer paid paternity leave, it decreases the risk of employers stigmatizing young women and not hiring them out of fear. Because new mothers are pretty much equal to a union of bog monsters threatening the workforce, y’know?

Not that it isn’t bad enough being the only developed nation in the world without any form of paid parental leave, but then there’s the added fact that 91% of businesses in the United States claim paid parental leave results in either positive outcomes or no outcome at all — meaning, no disadvantages. In other words, it’s way past time to get it together.

4. Home birthing

Despite the criminalization of midwifery by the medical market in the 1930s, the United States is no stranger to home birthing. The Farm — one of the nation’s oldest intentional communities in Tennessee — has led the movement in recognizing midwifery as a legitimate practice since its founding in 1971. Pamela Hunt, one of the The Farm’s original members and current practicing midwife, explains “Our goal is to make birthing safe for all women. To achieve this goal, we need to have these entities working closely together: the midwives, the doctors, and the nurse midwives.”

While the United States sees a 5-8% rate of preeclampsia, a devastating disease that can result in life and brain threatening seizures, and a 32.7% rate of cesarean delivered babies, The Farm sees rates of preeclampsia at 0.4%, cesareans at 1.7%, and zero cases of maternal mortality. Yet, home births account for only 1.36% of births in the United States with Certified Professional Midwives being legal in only 28 states and Certified Midwives practicing legally in three.

The Dutch Government, on the other hand, fully supports midwifery with home births in the Netherlands accounting for 20% of all births. As a natural part of life, childbearing occurs in the comforts of home — safe from drugs, fluorescent lights, and surgical masks. After all, why go to the hospital if you’re not sick?

5. Finland’s ‘baby boxes’

In the 1930s, Finland’s infant mortality rate was 65 out of 1,000 babies. However, a steady decline began paving the way following the distribution of maternity boxes to low-income mothers in 1938. The decline steepened even more after the boxes extended to all mothers in 1949. These baby boxes acted as a starter kit, packed with clothes, sheets, and toys, as well as a variety of other baby related necessities. It’s also an example of Finland prioritizing equality early on.

Today, Finland still supplies these boxes and leads with one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. It also ranks as one of the best places in the world to be a mother based on a variety of factors including maternal health, the involvement of women in national government affairs, and the mortality rate of children under six.

The United States comes in at a whoppin’ 33rd.

6. Burying the placenta

Plenty of places around the world celebrate the cycle of life by burying the placenta such as Costa Rica, Estonia, Turkey, and Switzerland. In particular, new parents in the Philippines bury the placenta with a book to guarantee an intelligent child.

And while there’s no proof that a book-pressed placenta breeds intellect, there are studies revealing that eating the placenta literally has no affect on your health whatsoever. Not that your cabin-dwelling, weed-dealing, and kombucha-brewing friend or expert Kourtney Kardashian will buy into these studies.

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