Maternal Mortality during Interwar America

  • 2017

Maternal Mortality during Interwar America

Author:
Tiffany Sakahara-Petersen
Abstract:

This paper focuses on interwar America during the 1920s and 1930s. Childbirth is one of the oldest experiences of humanity, and yet the narrative surrounding it has undergone more changes in the past two hundred years than in the thousands of years before. For most of human history, childbirth remained the nearly exclusive domain of women. Only during the most complicated births did a physician or his historical equivalent attend. By the end of World War II, almost all women gave birth in hospitals under the supervision of an obstetrician. Concurrently, the maternal mortality rate increased or remained at a high plateau until the late 1930s. The first half of the twentieth century was a dynamic time for women and there is little exploration on the relationship between this period for women and the significant drop in maternal mortality. After falling steadily for more than fifty years, the maternal mortality rate began to rise in the late 1980s. Currently, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations. If the rapid decrease in mortality in the 1930s had been due to actual improvements in care within obstetrics, improvements meant to ameliorate the labor experience and success rate, the mortality rate should not have reversed. What seems to have happened is that the medical community established their routines of care and control over the process, regardless of its overall safety for the mother and child, which did not permanently lower the mortality rate.