30 ways having a baby has changed over the last 50 years

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September 1, 2019

30 ways having a baby has changed over the last 50 years

If a woman gave birth in the 1960s, she may not remember the details and her husband may not have been present for the delivery. The practice of “twilight sleep,” when women were given a cocktail of drugs that erased their memories of the event, didn’t go out of favor until the 1970s, around the same time fathers were allowed in the delivery room. Those days are over and giving birth today looks nothing like it did just a half-century ago.

A lot is different 50 years later. While physically having a baby has changed little—although the number of cesarean births has increased—the way women get pregnant has. In 1981, the first U.S. baby conceived through in vitro fertilization—otherwise known as the first “test-tube baby”—was born. Since then, advances in fertility treatments have helped millions of women have children. Former First Lady Michelle Obama is one mom who used IVF and did so with success. She openly discussed her struggles with infertility and how her two daughters were conceived through the process.

Women are also having babies later in life with decreasing risk. Compared to 50 years ago, more women are having babies in their 30s than in their 20s, and the fertility rate for women over 40 has increased. With the help of donor eggs, a 65-year-old woman from Germany gave birth to a set of quadruplets. In 2016, an American woman gave birth to her own grandchild

Stacker combined news reports with data from Pew Research Center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make a list of 30 ways having a baby has changed over the past 50 years. Read on to find out how different having a baby was 50 years ago.

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In vitro fertilization has helped millions get pregnant

England announced the first successful live birth from in vitro fertilization in 1978. The United States followed suit three years later. During IVF, an egg is harvested and fertilized outside of the female body and then placed inside the uterus. Around 1% to 2% of all births in the United States are through IVF and at least 8 million babies have been born worldwide through the process in the past 40 years. Not everyone has the same access to fertility treatments, though.

More women get epidurals

An epidural—when pain medication is delivered through a catheter inserted near the spine—has been around for over 50 years, but advances in the 1970s made the procedure safer and more popular among patients. From 1981 to 2001, the rate of epidural use tripled in the United States, with a majority of women choosing this pain-relieving option during labor.

Delivery time has increased

Compared to the 1960s, the length of labor has increased by two hours for first-time mothers, to an average of 6.5 hours. Some attribute the use of epidurals to the longer labor time, but modern-day moms are also older and have bigger babies.

More births happen via C-section

In 1970, about 5.5% of pregnant women gave birth through a cesarean section, a procedure that surgically removes the baby from the uterus. The national rate of C-sections is 32%, which is higher than the target rate of 23.9% recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for low-risk births. While the procedure can help save the life of the mother, doctors and hospitals are working to decrease unnecessary C-sections. One way an individual can lower her chances of having a C-section that isn't required medically is to hire a doula, a licensed professional who can speak on behalf of the mother during labor. Women in labor who have a doula by their side are 60% less likely to have a C-section.

New moms stay in the hospital for less time

In 1970, a new mom would stay at the hospital around four days. That number has dropped by 50%. Insurance companies are only legally required to cover 48 hours for a vaginal delivery or 96 hours for a cesarean section. Globally, women are often leaving within the first 24 hours, a time frame deemed too short by the World Health Organization.

Pregnancy tests are widely available

The Egyptians were using urine to detect a pregnancy back in 1350 B.C., but Americans couldn't pick up a modern pregnancy test until the late 1970s. Three years after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a woman's right to an abortion, the first home pregnancy test was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The e.p.t., short for "early pregnancy test," came on the market in 1976.

Ovulation can be detected at home

Not only can women figure out if they're pregnant in the comfort of their own bathroom, they can use an at-home test to determine the best time to conceive. Over-the-counter ovulation kits test for the luteinizing hormone (LH), which increases 24-to-48 hours before ovulation. This LH surge triggers ovulation, the release of an egg from the ovaries. For best results, test first thing in the morning.

Women are delaying motherhood

In 1970, the average age of a first-time mom was 21.4. By 2016, women were waiting until 26 to have children. Today, more women in their 30s are having children than those in their 20s.

More moms are having children after 40

The birth rate for women 40 and older has increased while the rates for women 20 and under have decreased. With advances in fertility treatments, some women are having children much later in their reproductive years. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and singer Janet Jackson are two women who became mothers in their 50s.

Infant mortality rates have gone down

Infant mortality rates have dramatically decreased over the past 50 years. From 1970 to 2015, the United States saw a decrease from 20 to 5.9 per 1,000 births. While the rates have dropped for every race, at 11.2 per 1,000 live births, there is still a large gap between the mortality rates of white and black children.

More moms are breastfeeding

In 1972, only 22% of women breastfed their babies. That number steadily increased over the decades, with recent figures surpassing 80%. In 1991, the World Health Organization and UNICEF launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative after research showed the health benefits of breastfeeding. The WHO recommends exclusively breastfeeding babies up to six months. Among new moms, there is often a debate of whether to breastfeed or use a formula, with women who give their babies formula sometimes being shamed for doing so—although breastfeeding does not work for everyone.

Biological babies can be born through a surrogate

After advances in IVF, it became possible for a couple to have their own biological baby through gestational surrogacy—when someone else's uterus is used to carry a genetically unrelated child for another person or couple. The first successful birth through gestational surrogacy occurred in 1986. In 2016, a 53-year-old woman was a surrogate for her daughter, giving birth to her own grandchild.

Same-sex couples can adopt

In 2016, a federal judge in Mississippi ruled that the ban on same-sex adoption was illegal. While it is legal for same-sex couples to adopt in all 50 states, some states—like Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma—are trying to pass legislation to allow child-placement services with religious affiliations to restrict adoption by LGBT couples.

Females can freeze their eggs

A woman might harvest and freeze her eggs—technically called mature oocyte cryopreservation—because she will undergo cancer treatment or because she'd like to delay motherhood. The cost of storing eggs starts around $5,000, but only about 10% of those who freeze their eggs ever actually use them. It's not clear how many women are choosing to put their eggs on ice, but some companies are even paying for the storage procedure for employees.

More children born to unmarried couples

In the 1960s, most children were born to married parents. About 40% of children today are born out of wedlock, up from 10% in 1970. While some of those numbers represent single mothers, most are unwed couples who are cohabitating.

Disposable diapers have become mainstream

Pampers were first introduced in 1961. By 1980, American parents were going through 1.93 tons of disposable diapers; look for those to biodegrade around year 2500. While some parents might prefer cloth diapers, these reusable options actually might not be better for the environment.

Fertility drugs are leading to more multiple births

Between 1971 and 2011, mothers having multiple births doubled in the United States because of increased use of fertility treatments. From 1998 to 2011, the number of triplets or more rose from 36% to 45% because of fertility drugs like clomiphene citrate (brand name: Clomid) and injectable hormones, not IVF. It's risky to have more than one child at a time, for both the mom and the children. The risk of premature birth, cerebral palsy, and developmental delays all increase.

Midwives are becoming more popular

In 1989, midwives were the lead care providers for 3% of births in the United States. That number is now close to 9%. States that support midwives have better birth outcomes than states that make it harder for midwives to care for pregnant women and deliver babies. If a woman uses a midwife, she is twice as likely to breastfeed at least six months than new mothers attended to only by an obstetrician.

More dads are taking paternity leave

Because of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, companies with 50 or more employees can't fire someone for taking up to three months off after the birth of their child. Millennial parents value parental leave—which employers don't have to pay for—more than previous generations, with more dads viewing paternity leave as a necessity. Fathers also spend about three times more on child care than dads in the 1960s. That cost is eight hours a week, though, usually still much less than moms.

Gene editing is almost here

CRISPR is a molecular tool that scientists can use to cut sequences from DNA. American scientists have edited human embryos, but the technology hasn't gone mainstream. A Chinese scientist faced ethical questions after he edited the genes of twin girls while they were embryos, which he said was to protect them from contracting HIV.

Fetal ultrasounds are the norm

Using ultrasound technology to confirm a pregnancy started in U.S. hospitals in the 1970s and early '80s. Image quality improved in the 1990s. Now parents can look at images in 3D and 4D—which may not be medically necessary—to see what the baby is doing in real time. The tests can identify the sex and the number of fetuses, and detect fetal abnormalities, such as microcephaly (an abnormally small head), absence of kidneys, and spinal problems.

Parents can monitor babies on their phone

The first baby radio was invented in 1937. Since then, monitoring technology has advanced dramatically. The babies of 2019 not only have monitors in their rooms, but their parents can watch them on a video or monitor their breathing and movement from their smartphones.

No more twilight sleep

In 1914, women advocated for "twilight sleep," a controversial method that combined morphine to dull pain with scopolamine, a medication that erased a new mom's memory of the experience. Twilight sleep went out in the '70s with the rise of the Lamaze method, a breathing and relaxation technique that became well known in the '60s.

Eggs can be donated

In 1983, the first successful egg donation occurred at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2017, an Indian woman 20 years past menopause—she claimed to be around 70—gave birth to her first child using donated eggs. While it's possible to have children at older ages, there are more complications.

More genetic testing

In the early 1970s, doctors started doing amniocentesis, a relatively safe procedure during which a needle is inserted into the abdomen and a small amount of amniotic fluid from the sac around the fetus is removed and tested for genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome. In the 1990s, chorionic villus sampling (CVS) became possible. CVS detects chromosome abnormalities earlier—10 weeks after conception—than can be achieved through amniocentesis. The test itself, however, may cause miscarriage or limb deformities of an otherwise normal baby. A myriad of other tests are also available today.

Male infertility taken into account

Couples experience infertility because of male issues about one-third of the time. Today, sperm count and motility can be analyzed. A transrectal ultrasound can also look at the health of ejaculatory ducts.

Sperm clinics widespread

Sperm banks became popular in the 1970s. A lack of regulation, however, is creating large genetic families across the country. One fertility doctor also claimed to use anonymous sperm, but inseminated women with his own genetic material instead.

Fathers can witness their baby's birth

In the late 1950s, after most women started having hospital births, fathers were resigned to pacing around the waiting room. Much like surgery, doctors didn't want anyone other than the patient and nurses in the room. Starting in the 1960s, fathers could be present during labor. In the 1970s and 1980s, they got to stay for the birth. Now, most fathers are alongside mothers when their babies are born.

People are having fewer children

The fertility rate in 1972 fell to 2.136, a number lower than the 2.235 rate during the Great Depression. The rate often drops during periods of economic uncertainty, like the energy crisis of the 1970s or during a recession. Current fertility rates are at historic lows in the United States, with the number of births each woman is expected to have in her childbearing years dropping to 1.76. The rate to replace the population is 2.1.

Raising a child is more expensive

People may be having fewer children because it costs an average of $233,000 to raise a child born after 2015, excluding college costs. Adjusted for inflation, that number was more like $203,000 in 1960. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a calculator to help parents determine child-rearing costs based on how many kids they have and where they live.

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