Childbirth Connection's National Survey on Birth Experiences

By Christine Cupaiuolo — April 27, 2007

Childbirth Connection is hosting a special event May 1 to honor Betsy Gotbaum, public advocate for the City of New York, and Choices in Childbirth, a New York City-based consumer advocacy group that educates the public about women’s options and rights in childbirth, for their outstanding contributions to childbearing women.

The event takes place at The Harvard Club in New York City, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $50; $35 for students and includes cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and a panel discussion, “Women and Childbirth: Choice, Control, Knowledge and Decision Making.”

Panelists include Elan McAllister, doula and president/co-founder of Choices in Childbirth; Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director and founder of National Advocates for Pregnant Women; Anne Pearson, director of Reproductive Rights Unit, Civil Rights Bureau of the Office of the Attorney General, New York State; and Carol Sakala, director of programs, Childbirth Connection.

Childbirth Connection is pretty cool itself — it’s long been considered an amazing resource for evidence-based guidance on making decisions throughout pregnancy and birth. And it recently released Listening to Mothers II national survey, which explores the birth experiences of 1,573 women who gave birth in 2005.

The first Listening to Mothers survey was released in 2002. The surveys are useful for understanding and improving the quality of maternity experiences, as they look at all aspect of maternity and childbirth health and well-being — including pressures to accept interventions, safe and effective care practices, pain and its impact on postpartum health, and the struggle for new mothers to balance work and family obligations.

Conducted by Harris Interactive for Childbirth Connection, in partnership with Lamaze International, LtMII shows that “technology-intensive childbirth care is the norm” (PDF) and that “most mothers experienced numerous labor and birth interventions with various degrees of risks that may be of benefit for mothers with specific conditions, but are inappropriate as routine measures.”

“The data show many mothers and babies experienced inappropriate care that does not reflect the best evidence, as well as other undesirable circumstances and adverse outcomes. This sounds alarm bells,” said Maureen Corry, executive director of Childbirth Connection.

“Few healthy, low-risk mothers require technology-intensive care when given good support for physiologic labor,” Corry added. “Yet, the survey shows that the typical childbirth experience has been transformed into a morass of wires, tubes, machines and medications that leave healthy women immobilized, vulnerable to high levels of surgery and burdened with physical and emotional health concerns while caring for their newborns.”

Childbirth Connections contacted mothers six months after their participation in LtMII for a follow-up survey about their postpartum experiences. A separate report based on those survey results will be issued later this year.

It’s rather amazing how much discussion there is around pregnancy and mothers-to-be, yet there’s very little research on the actual experiences of mothers themselves. These surveys are fantastic resources for policy makers and administrators — as well as pregnant women or mothers who may want a perspective on their own experience.

Carol Sakala, the study’s co-author, is also a contributor to the forthcoming “Our Bodies Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth, which is scheduled for publication in spring 2008 (yes, that’s right — another OBOS resource is on the way …).

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