By Dr. Mercola
In the U.S., giving birth in a hospital may cost you $10,000 to more than $20,000 depending on the type of delivery and which tests and procedures you opt in or out of – and that’s including insurance coverage.
In fact, the average cost of a cesarean section (C-section) in the U.S. is more than $50,000 if you factor in what both the patient and the insurance company pay. Such costs aren’t standard worldwide, however.
Giving Birth in the US Costs Thousands… but ‘Does Not Lead to First-Rate Outcomes’
The Atlantic recently highlighted the drastically different costs to have a baby in different parts of the world (and even in different parts of the U.S.). In China, a C-section is less than $1,000. In Turkey, about $2,500. And in Denmark, you can have your baby free of charge.1
True, the care is not entirely the same. Denmark uses a much more “low-tech” and “hands-off” system than in the U.S., with midwives instead of obstetricians and fewer tests and procedures.
In China, prenatal care has been described as “factory-like,” while in the U.S. women with comprehensive insurance plans are likely to be offered, and receive, treatments that may be “largely unnecessary.” As noted by The Atlantic:2
“According to Gerard Anderson, the director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at Johns Hopkins, the maternal-care system is designed with a well-insured, high-earning woman in mind.
It’s assumed that since the typical patient will only experience one or two pregnancies over the course of her life, she will want cutting-edge, high-touch care — and won’t mind paying out of pocket for her share of that. Indeed, she may even expect to.”
The problem with that expectation is that paying more doesn’t always equate to better care. If it did, the U.S. would have the best maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, instead of the quite dismal rates it actually earns… The Atlantic continued:3
“… [I]n prenatal and pregnancy care, as is the case with medical care at large, America’s high-cost system does not lead to first-rate outcomes.
On the contrary: the website Mapping Health has observed that when it comes to maternity care, costs have been increasing without any corresponding increase in results.
The average cost of a delivery doubled between 1993 and 2009, and yet the mortality rate for mothers actually rose. In other developed countries, that rate declined during that period.
Likewise, the rate of infant death and the incidence of low birth weight (one proxy for unhealthy babies) in the United States has unfortunately remained steady.
Since 2009, the nation has made no progress in matching its peer countries’ lower infant-mortality rates. In terms of maternal mortality, the CIA’s World Factbook puts the U.S. on par with Iran.”
US Maternal Mortality Rate Is Double That of Canada
A World Health Organization (WHO) report published by the United Nations and World Bank revealed that, worldwide, maternal mortality fell by 44 percent since 1990.4
Yet, in the U.S. the number of maternal deaths actually increased during the study period, rising from 12 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 14 in 2015.
This rate is double that of Canada, which has a maternal mortality rate of just 7 per 100,000 live births — the same rate it had in 1990. The U.S. was one of only 13 countries that had maternal mortality rates worsen over the past 25 years. Others included North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela.
The United Nations’ goal is to have the global average number of maternal deaths below 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030, which the U.S. is already well below.
However, its rate pales in comparison to the world’s safest countries to give birth — Iceland, Finland, Poland, and Greece, where there are only three maternal deaths for every 100,000 births.
33 Nations Have Lower Infant Mortality Rates Than the US
It’s not only mothers’ health that may be at risk in the U.S., despite paying high costs for care.
U.S. infant mortality rates are higher than those in 33 other nations, which doesn’t say much for the U.S. childhood immunization schedule, which calls for 26 vaccine doses for infants under one year old — the most in the world.
While there are many factors that account for infant mortality rates, a study published in Human & Experimental Toxicology found a significant correlation between increasing number of vaccine doses and increasing infant mortality rates.5
This was particularly true when comparing nations giving 12 to 14 vaccine doses and those giving nearly double the doses – 21 to 23 or 24 to 26.
The researchers noted that “a closer inspection of the correlations between vaccine doses, biochemical or synergistic toxicity, and IMRs [infant mortality rates] is essential.” They continued:6
“Despite the United States spending more per capita on health care than any other country, 33 nations have better IMRs. Some countries have IMRs that are less than half the U.S. rate: Singapore, Sweden, and Japan are below 2.80.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ‘The relative position of the United States in comparison to countries with the lowest infant mortality rates appears to be worsening.’5
There are many factors that affect the IMR of any given country. For example, premature births in the United States have increased by more than 20% between 1990 and 2006.
Preterm babies have a higher risk of complications that could lead to death within the first year of life. However, this does not fully explain why the United States has seen little improvement in its IMR since 2000.
Nations differ in their immunization requirements for infants aged less than one year. In 2009, five of the 34 nations with the best IMRs required 12 vaccine doses, the least amount, while the United States required 26 vaccine doses, the most of any nation.”
US Earns a ‘C’ Grade on Preterm Births
As mentioned, premature births are one of the factors propelling infant mortality rates upward in the U.S. Nearly 10 percent of US births are premature, which is one of the highest rates among developed countries.
According to a new Premature Birth Report Card released by the March of Dimes, the U.S. earned only a “C” grade for its premature birth rate — again, pretty shabby for a country with the most expensive health care system.
Not only are premature babies more likely than full-term babies to die within the first year of life, but they’re also at a greater risk of life-long health issues, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy, and intellectual delays.
Worldwide, 15 million babies are born premature (prior to 37 weeks' gestation), and nearly 1 million die as a result. In the U.S., about 380,000 babies are born too soon each year. According to the March of Dimes:7
“With a grade of ‘C,’ the United States has a long way to go in reducing our preterm birth rate. In the U.S., one in 10 babies is born too soon, and the preterm birth rate is higher than that of most high-income countries.”
A Simple Way to Slash Premature Birth Rates: Optimize Vitamin D
If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, be sure to have your vitamin D levels tested and optimize your levels accordingly.
When pregnant, you need a vitamin D level above 50 ng/ml to protect yourself and your baby from serious complications, such as premature delivery and preeclampsia (a leading cause of premature delivery).
When you're deficient in vitamin D, your health can deteriorate in any number of ways, because your cells actually need the active form of vitamin D to gain access to the genetic blueprints stored inside the cell.
This is why vitamin D has such a potent impact on such a wide variety of health problems — from fetal development in the womb to cancer. Unfortunately, despite being easily and inexpensive to address, vitamin D deficiency is epidemic around the world.
Raising vitamin D levels among pregnant women is of particular concern, as deficiency affects not only the mother, increasing her risk of complications during pregnancy or delivery, it also has short- and long-term ramifications for her child's health.
Optimal Vitamin D May Prevent 500,000 Premature Babies Annually
Studies presented by researchers Dr. Carol Wagner and Bruce W. Hollis, Ph.D. at an international vitamin D research conference found vitamin D supplementation may save the lives of 500,000 premature babies annually.8 Their findings included:
- Mothers who took 4,000 IUs (10 times the RDA of 400 IU) of vitamin D during pregnancy had their risk of premature birth reduced by half
- Premature babies born to women taking high doses of vitamin D were reduced by half at both 32 and 37 weeks; there were also fewer babies who were born "small for dates"
- Women taking high doses of vitamin D had a 25 percent reduction in infections, particularly respiratory infections such as colds and flu, as well as fewer infections of the vagina and the gums
- The "core morbidities of pregnancy" were reduced by 30 percent in the women who took the high-dose vitamin D (core morbidities of pregnancy include diabetes, high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia — a potentially deadly increase in blood pressure and fluid accompanied by low platelets)
- Babies getting the highest amounts of vitamin D after birth had fewer colds and less eczema
In a study presented at the 17th Vitamin D Workshop in Chicago, Illinois on June 20, 2014, research by Hollis and colleagues further revealed that vitamin D levels of 40 ng/mL or higher reduced the risk of premature birth by 59 percent compared to levels of 20 ng/mL or less.
Hollis’ research indicates that 50 percent of women can achieve the recommended vitamin D level of at least 50 ng/ml with 4,000 IUs during pregnancy and 6,400 IUs (for nursing mothers) of vitamin D3 respectively on a daily basis. However, it’s imperative to have your vitamin D levels tested to be sure they are optimized. Your best source of vitamin D is regular sun exposure, but a supplement may be necessary if this isn’t possible or practical.
Protect Our Children Now! Pregnant Women May Enroll in This No-Cost Program
Protect Our Children NOW! is a public health campaign aimed at raising global awareness about the health risks of vitamin D deficiency and providing information a woman can use to optimize her vitamin D status, thereby protecting not only herself but her children as well. The project was initiated by Carole Baggerly of GrassrootsHealth, which has a panel of 42 vitamin D researchers that provide scientific advice.
The Protect Our Children NOW! project aims to address the vitamin D deficiency epidemic among pregnant women and children by engaging women in “a value changing project of Good Health vs ‘Treating Illness.’”
It’s estimated that 80 percent of pregnant women are deficient in vitamin D. Optimizing your vitamin D status helps improve your health and prevent disease, which is a lot easier and less expensive than waiting for something to go wrong and then trying to treat the problem. Optimizing your vitamin D can be outright lifesaving — particularly when you're pregnant.
In addition to lowering your risk of premature birth, optimizing vitamin D levels can also cut your risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and prenatal infections by approximately 50 percent. Among African American and Hispanic populations, approximately 70 to 75 percent of all preterm births could be prevented with vitamin D optimization.
Vitamin D screening is key. All pregnant women participating in the Protect Our Children Now! program will be tested at approximately 12 to 17 weeks of pregnancy, 24 weeks, and 36 weeks. This is the only way to determine whether you might be deficient or not, and regular testing is important to make sure whatever dosage of vitamin D you're taking is sufficient to reach clinically relevant levels.
GrassrootsHealth recommends maintaining a vitamin D blood serum level of 40 to 60 ng/ml to protect your and your baby's health. If you are 12 to 17 weeks pregnant, are 18 years of age or older, and currently reside in the US, you may enroll in this fully-sponsored project at no cost to you. Participation in the program includes:
- Free vitamin D serum tests (either blood spot or in MUSC clinic)
- Your and your newborn’s new questionnaire entries
- Reporting of results directly to you
- Free vitamin D from Bio-Tech Pharmacal
- Free use of your HYLION Interactive Health Campus providing opportunities for engagement in health education and measurement for your action. There is also contact with experts and other participants for additional support and guidance during this time.
Many Women Gain Too Much During Pregnancy
Healthy weight gain is important and expected during pregnancy, but many U.S. women are gaining too much, according to an analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Only 32 percent of U.S. women gained the recommended amount of weight during their pregnancy, while the amount of women gaining more than recommended ranged from more than 54 percent in Alaska to 43 percent in Colorado.
In 20 states, 20 percent of women gained less than the recommended amount of weight.
Women who were overweight before pregnancy were most prone to excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Both of those factors may also put babies at risk of childhood obesity. Researchers followed more than 700 women who returned for follow up with their children were seven years old. Children of mothers who had been overweight prior to pregnancy were more likely to be overweight.
Women with greater weight gain during pregnancy were also more likely to have children with a higher percentage of body fat, and those with excessive weight gain were nearly three times more likely to have obese children than those who did not gain weight excessively during pregnancy.9
The Institute of Medicine recommends women of average weight gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy, while overweight women should gain 15 to 25 pounds and obese women gain just 11 to 20 pounds.10
Eating Right for a Healthy Pregnancy and Baby
If you're a woman in your childbearing years and you're planning to have children any time soon, it's imperative that you start eating healthy now. Research published in 2013 showed that women who ate a vegetable-rich diet during the year before pregnancy had a significantly lower risk of having a baby with certain birth defects compared to women who ate an unhealthy high-sugar diet.11 Specifically, compared to those who ate unhealthy, women on a healthy diet experienced:
- One-half lower risk of anencephaly, a neural-tube defect that interferes with brain development and often results in miscarriage
- Up to a one-third lower risk of cleft lip
- One-quarter lower risk of cleft palate
- One-fifth lower risk of spina bifida, another neural-tube defect
It’s not only mom’s diet that influences the future health of her offspring. A father’s diet prior to conception may also play a role, particularly in regard to folate, which is found in leafy green vegetables. An animal study showed that paternal folate deficiency was associated with an increase in birth defects in offspring compared to fathers eating a folate-sufficient diet.12
If you’re pregnant or planning to be, focus on minimizing processed foods while increasing your intake of vegetables, healthy fats, and high-quality sources of protein.
For a succinct and easy-to-follow overview of the types of foods and nutrients that will support a healthy pregnancy, read my optimized nutrition plan. You can find even more pregnancy superfoods here. Finally, one additional food group that hasn’t yet been mentioned, but is crucially important for pregnant women, is fermented foods.
Nearly everyone can benefit from the beneficial microbes in fermented vegetables, but if you are pregnant or planning to be, this is of utmost importance to you and your new baby. Research shows giving pregnant women and newborns doses of good bacteria like those found in fermented vegetables may:
Radically reduce your child’s risk of developing autism or autism-like disorders Protect babies from developing eczema in childhood Help prevent childhood allergies Help optimize your baby's weight later in life Improve the symptoms of colic, decreasing average crying times by about 75 percent Reduce your risk of premature labor
For more detailed healthy pregnancy guidelines, please review my special report: "No-Nonsense Guide to a Naturally Healthy Pregnancy and Baby," which covers far more than the basic nutrition tips offered here. Adopting the simple lifestyle approaches described therein can help both you and your baby to stay healthy during pregnancy and beyond.