Room to Improve Childbirth in U.S.

05.20.09 New report highlights need for health care overhaul—and it should start in the maternity ward.

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Cesarean sections are a booming business these days. In the past only performed when the baby or the mom was in danger, the C-section is now routine, The Los Angeles Times reports.

In fact, the surgical delivery is now the most common operation in U.S. hospitals, performed in 31 percent of births, up from 5.5 percent in 1970, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The C-section rate in the U.S. is higher than in most developed nations.

In the wake of this skyrocketing trend, medical complications, and not to mention bills, have also surged—prompting a serious review of whether a C-section can at times be an unnecessary risk. And costly: an average uncomplicated Cesarean is about $4,500 (although is can run as much as $13,000 at a private hospital).

According to the L.A. Times report, a 2008 New York think-tank study cites pregnancy as the most expensive condition for both private insurers and Medicaid. "Maternity care thus plays a considerable role in escalating health care costs," the 2008 report says.

During these tough economic times, U.S. officials have vowed to turn their focus to overhauling the American health care system. I'm sure the majority of Americans would say government officials should start with maternity care: As the No. 1 cause of hospital admissions, childbirth is a huge part of the nation's $2.4 trillion annual health care spending (more than $799 billion in hospital charges alone).

Earlier this month, a Wall Street Journal writer recounted her experience figuring out her hospital bill after giving birth to her son. Even though it's not easy, she recommends patients get informed before the big day about what they have to pay and why.

When it comes to your option between a C-section and a vaginal birth, there's no definitive answer because every situation is different. But if you are low risk, why not let nature take its course and have a vaginal birth. However your labor story unfolds, just remember to be flexible and informed.

Remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to deliver a baby, just different ones. A healthy mom and baby are the ultimate goal of any birth plan!

Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.