Needs of Healthy Childbearing Women



What proportion of pregnant women are at low risk for problems?

Do low-risk pregnant women receive appropriate maternity care?

What do healthy childbearing women need?

What kind of maternity care is appropriate if I'm healthy and low-risk?

Why should I avoid routine interventions if I'm healthy and low-risk?



What proportion of pregnant women are at low risk for problems?

The great majority of pregnant women in the U.S. are well and healthy. Healthy People 2020 describes health goals for the nation. According to the Healthy People definition, nearly 85 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. — about 3 1/2 million woman every year — enter labor at "low risk" for problems. These women, together with their infants and other family members, have distinct health and social needs.

Do low-risk pregnant women receive appropriate maternity care?

Low-risk pregnant women have good reason to expect to an uncomplicated birth and a healthy newborn. Unfortunately, contemporary maternity care systems often treat pregnancy and birth in healthy women as medical conditions or disease states, rather than normal life processes. Childbirth care in U.S. hospitals is intervention-intensive, even for low-risk women. Six of the ten most common hospital procedures in the country are maternity-related, and the most common operating room procedure is cesarean section.

Many programs address the important needs of the minority of pregnant women who have medical problems, or are at a high risk for developing them. But, limited attention is given to ensure that the millions of healthy women who give birth every year receive the appropriate care. Childbirth Connection and this website address the needs of this group. 

What do healthy childbearing women need?

If you are in good health, your medical needs may be limited, but you can benefit greatly from information and other support to help you maintain and enhance your health. Attentive care and reliable information can help you understand what is happening to your body, identify potential concerns, and make informed decisions about your care. The transition to parenthood is a major life change, and you may welcome and benefit from guidance and support at this time.    

What kind of maternity care is appropriate if I'm healthy and low-risk?

Pregnancy, labor and birth, and the postpartum period involve innate processes of women and their fetuses/newborns that are regulated by powerful hormones. When we support these processes and avoid interfering with them, labor, birth, attachment, and breastfeeding reflect these processes, and the need for medical intervention is limited. It is important to find caregivers and places for giving birth that understand, respect, and work with these inborn processes.

Maternity care that is supportive and respectful, and that reflects the best available research about safe and effective care, has the best potential to lead to:
  • a healthy mother and newborn
  • a strong and connected family
  • parents who are informed, confident and ready to take on the considerable demands and responsibilities of parenthood.

Why should I avoid routine interventions if I'm healthy and low-risk?

Many hospitals and health professionals use maternity interventions liberally or routinely, even when there is no clear need for them. This may happen because of standard practice in that community, health professionals’ education and training, pressure to hasten the labor and birth, or for other reasons. The national Listening to Mothers survey found high rates of intervention among women giving birth in U.S. hospitals. Examples of commonly used interventions include: inducing labor, using continuous electronic fetal monitoring, giving intravenous fluids, and cutting an episiotomy. Women themselves may also request interventions that are not medically needed, such as labor induction for convenient scheduling. 

Although select women in specific situations may benefit from such maternity interventions, the best research finds that many interventions do not offer benefits to healthy women but do increase their risk for potentially harmful side effects.  

If there is no clear, well-supported justification for use, it is wise to avoid interventions because they may:

The chain of unintended effects of maternity interventions has been called a "cascade of intervention." Many women feel that their bodies have failed them, and are unaware that things that have gone wrong were triggered by maternity practices themselves.

Moreover, the use of unnecessary interventions compromises the quality of maternity care and wastes resources of the employers, governments and families who pay for this care.



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Hormones Driving Labor and Birth

Most recent page update: 7/11/2011


© 2014 National Partnership for Women & Families. All rights reserved.

Founded in 1918, Childbirth Connection has joined forces with and become a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families. Together, these two women's health powerhouses are transforming maternity care in the United States.
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