15 Years, 15 Big Changes
Here's a look at how far having babies has come in the past 15 years and how far we still have to go.
|THE GOOD||THE BAD||MIXED BAG|
1. We've learned so much about how to have a healthy baby. A few examples: Folic acid dramatically reduces not only neural-tube defects like spina bifida, but also helps prevent prematurity; placing babies to sleep on their backs lowers the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); and storing your baby's cord blood could pay off if he develops certain diseases later.
2. The C-section rate is unacceptably high. Nearly 1 in 3 deliveries is a Cesarean, and many are unnecessary. Both mothers and babies can suffer medical repercussions. The World Health Organization says that 10 percent should be the maximum rate.
3. Pregnant women and new moms have never had so much support. We've witnessed the proliferation of prenatal-exercise classes, doulas, group stroller-workout programs, new moms' groups, online information and support sources and more.
4. Having babies has become commercialized and "celebritized." We register for a dizzying number of products (many of which do make life easier) and negatively compare our shapes to those of pregnant stars (which can help motivate us to look our best).
5. We've made great strides in infertility treatment. Partly because of fertility-enhancing therapies, birth rates for women 35-39 have risen 46 percent since 1990; the increase was 65 percent for women 40-44.
6. More and more prenatal tests are being offered. Testing provides valuable information about your baby's development and health. But while normal results alleviate anxiety, even "false positive" ones&mdashand waiting for any results&mdashdo just the opposite.
7. Preterm-birth rates have climbed. Almost 13 percent of American moms give birth before their 37th week of pregnancy&mdasha 20 percent increase since 1990, in part because of the upswing in multiple births (see No. 11).
8. Fathers are more involved than ever. In addition to America's evolving social mores, we can thank the 1995 Fatherhood Initiative, which directed every federal agency to review its programs and policies with an eye toward strengthening the role of fathers.
9. Women are gaining too much weight. Maternal obesity can lead to birth defects, hypertension, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, too-large babies, and labor and delivery complications.
10. Early breastfeeding rates are up. Credit education about its benefits and the growth of such services as lactation consultants and breastfeeding-support stores. But long-term rates still need improvement.
11. Multiple births are booming. While a blessing to previously infertile couples, assisted reproduction often results in multiples, who are at increased risk for preterm delivery and lifelong health problems.
12. Moms with emotional issues no longer suffer alone. Even celebrities like actress Brooke Shields talk candidly about postpartum depression, which affects 10 percent to 15 percent of women and is now successfully treated with medicine and/or therapy.
13. Infant and maternal mortality rates have risen. The U.S. infant mortality rate is on the rise for the first time since 1958, up to 7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004. The maternal mortality rate was 13 deaths per 100,000 live births, up from 10 since 1977; research shows this may be partly due to the increase in C-sections.
14. There's never been so much information. Sure, knowledge is power&mdashas long as what you're getting is reliable. But much of what's out there isn't.
15. Birth interventions have soared. While lifesaving in many cases, such procedures as continuous fetal monitoring and induction of labor can also interfere with the labor process and thwart a mother's desire for a natural birth.