So Lucky to Give Birth in England

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So Lucky to Give Birth in England

News article

By: Randi Hutter-Epstein

Date: December 4, 2001

Source: Hutter-Epstein, Randi. "So Lucky to Give Birth in England." New York Times. (December 4, 2001).

About the Author: Randi Hutter-Epstein is a mother and author who has written extensively on the experience of raising children.


Childbirth is one of the most significant and life-changing events of human existence. Throughout history, cultural expectations and superstition have played significant roles in the way it is experienced. In particular, young mothers-to-be frequently find themselves receiving an overwhelming amount of advice and instruction, further complicating an already challenging phase of life.

Ancient Europeans presented mothers-to-be with a lengthy list of behaviors to avoid during pregnancy to avoid harming their unborn child. For example, pregnant women were cautioned that wearing a rope in place of a belt would result in their child ultimately being hanged. Pregnant women were also warned not to visit a place where cloth was being bleached, otherwise their children would be born with pale skin.

After giving birth, new mothers faced a veritable minefield of dangerous behaviors, any one of which would supposedly result in pain or misfortune. Newly delivered mothers who walked through a field or garden would supposedly make that piece of land infertile for several years, and the woman who stuck pins or needles into curtains in the six weeks after childbirth would give her child bad teeth.

Child care and parenting were also the subject of numerous superstitions and taboos. Upon the appearance of a child's first tooth, parents were admonished to slap the child across the face, as this was claimed to make the rest of the teething process easier. When putting a newborn to bed care was required, since laying the child first on its left side would cause the child to grow up to be clumsy.

While these gems of parenting wisdom appear ridiculous in light of modern medical knowledge, modern parents often receive even more advice, some of it contradictory. For many years, mothers were encouraged to put their babies to bed face-down; this position was believed to be safer in the event a baby spat up during sleep, since it might not be able to clear its mouth of vomit sleeping face-up.

In later years, further research concluded that babies have no difficulty turning their head if they vomit, and that choking is not a major threat. Numerous studies also support a relationship between sleeping face-down and the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), in which an otherwise healthy baby dies while sleeping. In response to this new understanding, health agencies launched a campaign called "Back to Sleep," which offered extensive advice on how to make cribs safer and why babies should sleep on their backs. Not surprisingly this new advice was received with skepticism by some older women who raised their children the old way.

In addition to creating enormous change in the life of a family, childbirth is also a major financial event. As of 2006, a typical hospital delivery in the United States cost $6,000 to $10,000; complications or a premature birth can raise these costs by a factor of ten, giving insurers a significant interest in the health of mothers and babies. Many developed nations outside the United States provide government-funded health care for all their citizens and these governments frequently take additional steps to reduce long-term complications and costs. For this reason, giving birth in a foreign country can be a very different experience than giving birth in the United States.


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Childbirth practices and their associated costs have become the subject of a tug-of-war in the United States. During the early 1990's major insurers began limiting post-delivery hospital stays to reduce costs; in many cases mothers were discharged from the hospital twenty-four hours after delivery, while in a few extreme cases the stay was limited to as little as eight. While such policies reduce short-term costs by shortening hospital stays, research suggests that children discharged this quickly are at a greater risk of complications, potentially offsetting these savings with higher costs later.

In the face of such policies, several states enacted provisions requiring a minimum hospital stay after delivery. In 1996, Congress passed the Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act. This law requires health insurers to pay for a forty-eight-hour hospital stay following vaginal delivery and a ninety-six-hour stay following a caesarian birth. Doctors are allowed to discharge mothers and babies sooner, but insurers cannot pay incentives to doctors who choose to do so. As hospital costs climb, some women choose to deliver their babies at home, a practice that seems out of place in the twenty-first century, but which generally provides good outcomes at a far lower cost.



Goer, Henci, and Rhonda Wheeler. The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth. New York: Perigee Trade, 1999.

Nichols, Francine, and Sharron Smith Humenick. Childbirth Education: Practice, Research and Theory. New York: Saunders, 2000.

Simkin, Penny, et al. Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn, Revised and Updated: The Complete Guide. New York: Meadowbrook Press, 2001.


Glass, Jennifer and Leda Nath. "Religious Conservatism and Women's Market Behavior Following Marriage and Childbirth." Journal of Marriage and Family. 68, no. 3(2006): 611-629.

McCool, W.F. and S.A. Simeone. "Birth in the United States: An overview of Trends Past and Present." Nursing Clinics of North America. 37, no. 4(2002): 735-746.

Web sites

University of Pittsburgh. "Superstitions: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Postnatal Care." 〈〉 (accessed July 10, 2006).

U.S. Department of Labor. "Frequently Asked Questions about Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection" 〈〉 (accessed July 10, 2006).

Washington Post Online. "More Stress on Moms: When Babies Come in Twos or Threes, the Pressure More Than Doubles." February 23, 1999 〈〉 (accessed July 10, 2006).