Pregnancy and you blog

Labor and delivery: Then vs. now

By Mary M. Murry, R.N., C.N.M. April 8, 2014

I have been caring for women during their childbearing years since I was 16. That was many moons ago and things have changed since then.

Gone are the days of mandatory pubic hair shaving and enemas during labor. We've said goodbye to women laboring alone. (Fathers in the room during labor or childbirth where I was working were unheard of until the early to mid-1970s.) Back then, there was no such thing as a birth plan. Delivering your baby in any position other than on your back happened only accidentally — if at all.

Mothers and babies are no longer separated almost immediately after birth. Babies aren't kept in a nursery and doled out to their mothers at prescribed times and for short durations. Back then, I spent more time with the babies than their mothers did. Breastfeeding women were an oddity and were treated as such. And postpartum women were given powerful laxatives.

Today we encourage women to develop birth plans, breastfeed and, if possible, room in with their babies. Women also have many more options now. For example, they can choose to get an epidural, have a water birth or work with a doula or lactation consultant. How did we get here?

For the most part, we got here because of women. Women spoke out. Women demanded change. Science didn't say that strapping down a woman's arms during birth was inappropriate. Women said it. The voices of these women were strong. They were heard by doctors, nurse-midwives, hospital administrators, insurance companies, researchers and other women.

The changes that have occurred in obstetrics in the last 30 years are amazing. We in the field believe that what happens to women during pregnancy and childbirth is important. It has a lifelong impact on women and their babies. Science and research are supporting women's voices and helping to continue to bring about innovation and change. So ladies, don't be afraid to use your voices to make your needs and wants known. I'm listening. What do we need to work on?

April 08, 2014