Times have changed, and likewise, pregnancy and childbirth have as well. While it’s true that better technology and improved prenatal care and education are contributing to these differences, there’s more to it than that. For one thing, women have changed anatomically over the last century, and that translated into pregnancy and labor being a little different than it was back in the day. Here are some of the major changes in pregnancy and labor:
–Pregnant women spend more hours in labor now than they did 50 years ago.A study from earlier this year showed that the first stage of pregnancy takes 2.6 hours longer for first-time mothers in the last few years than it did in the 60s. Medical researchers have noticed that the average body mass of a woman prior to pregnancy has gone up in the last 50 years, from a BMI of 23 to a BMI of 24.9. Women are also 4 years older when giving labor now as opposed to the 1960s. As the body weight of a pre-pregnant woman has gone up, so too has the body mass of a pregnant woman, and these anatomical changes may be contributing to the longer hours in labor1.
-Cesarean sections are becoming increasingly more common. In 2009, for instance, 32.9% of all births in the USA were delivered through C-section. As women are spending more hours in labor than they had been previously, there are also certain risks tied to a prolonged labor process, such as more pain. Cesarean births help reduce those risks. Another benefit of Cesarean sections is that in most cases, women can schedule when to have their births via this method. With busier lifestyles, the ability to have scheduled, planned births offer convenience to the modern mother, and this may be part of the reason why Cesarean sections are becoming more common in America2.
-Diet is now believed to be good during pregnancy. A study published last May suggested that pregnant women who watch their caloric intake are more likely to have healthier babies, and less likely to have pre-eclampsia, a condition that may lead to gestational diabetes, premature birth, and for the mother, high blood pressure or hypertension. Moderately intense exercise has also been found to benefit expectant mothers. Of course, pregnant women or women trying to conceive should consult their obstetrician/gynecologist for the best diet and exercise during their nine months3.
The big picture. It is important to note the changes in pregnancy and labor over the years among women, and apply it to medical education procedures. Since weight seems to be a bigger issue in women’s health during pregnancy, medical professionals should be better trained and encouraged to discuss weight, diet, and exercise with pregnant women and women trying to conceive. In medical universities, a higher emphasis should be placed than previously in performing Cesarean section births. And of course, more medical research should be conducted on these obstetrical topics, including characteristics and pain management for women who face labor for longer hours. As women’s health and anatomy continue to change, medical education to prepare practitioners for labor and delivery ought to change as well.
1. Study: Labor Longer for Pregnant Women Now than 50 Years Ago
2. Are Court-Ordered Cesarean Sections Ethical?
3. Study finds losing weight benefits mother and child, overturning decades of advice