Almost all US women experience “complications” during delivery

While US families spend billions of dollars on pre-natal care, the vast majority of women have what the medical industry labels “complications” during their deliveries – costing them another $17.4 billion each year.

Those were the findings of a study reported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which reported that more than nine out of every ten women giving birth in the United States had some complication in 2008.

According to data from the federal agency, 94% of women hospitalized for pregnancy and delivery had complications such as: premature labor, urinary infection, anemia, diabetes, vomiting, bleeding, laceration of the area between the vagina and anus during delivery, abnormal fetal heart rate, advanced maternal age (over 35 years), and hypertension and eclampsia (a condition associated with high blood pressure which can involve swelling and seizures).

Although the AHRQ didn’t speculate as to why the “complication” rate was so high, it did provide a few clues about one probable reason: economics.

Without complications, a woman either delivers outside a hospital setting (in home, birth center, etc.) or stays only an average of 1.9 days in the hospital. However, when diagnosed with a complication, she’s in the hospital nearly three days on average, and the cost jumps nearly 50% ($4,100 as opposed to $2,600).

In fact, the AHRQ reported that pregnancy and delivery-related complications accounted for $17.4 billion, or nearly five percent of total US hospital costs.

This offers a huge incentive to label many situations  as “complications” (including being over age 35) and treat pregnancy as an illness or “condition” in need of medical treatment. In countries where the economic incentive is removed, the frequency of complications plummets.

British general practitioner Susan Jarvis says: “For the majority of women, labour is a positive, uncomplicated and rewarding experience. About 85 per cent of women having their first baby will experience a normal delivery, and that rate rises to about 95 per cent if you have had a normal delivery before.” (from “Complications during labour,” )

This AHRQ News and Numbers summary is based on data from Statistical Brief #113: “Complicating Conditions of Pregnancy and Childbirth, 2008” . The report uses data from the agency’s 2008 Nationwide Inpatient Sample.