The Journal of Clinical Ethics


Mary Regan and Katie McElroy, “Women’s Perceptions of Childbirth Risk and Place of Birth,”

The Journal of Clinical Ethics 24, no. 3 (Fall 2013): 239-52.



      In the United States, clinical interventions such as epidurals, intravenous infusions, oxytocin, and intrauterine pressure catheters are used almost routinely in births in the hospital setting, despite evidence that the overutilization of such interventions likely plays a key role in increasing the need for cesarean section (CS). In 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 32.8 percent of births in the U.S. were by CS. The U.S. National Institutes of Health has reported that CS increases avoidable maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. To increase understanding of what might motivate the overuse of CS in the U.S., we investigated the factors that influenced women’s decision making around childbirth, because women’s conscious and unconscious choices about giving birth could influence whether they would choose or allow delivery by CS.

      In this article, we report findings about women’s decisions related to place of birth—at home or in a hospital. We found that choosing a place of birth was significant in how women in our study attempted to mitigate their perceptions of the risks of childbirth for themselves and their infant. Concern for the safety of the infant was a central, driving factor in the decisions women made about giving birth, and this concern heightened their perceptions of the risks of childbirth. Heightened perceptions of risk about the safety of the fetus during childbirth were found to affect women’s ability to accurately assess the risk of using clinical interventions such as the time of admission, epidural anesthesia, oxytocin, or cesarean birth, which has important implications for clinical practice, prenatal education, perinatal research, medical decision making, and informed consent.


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