I have always found this fascinating. We are the most intelligent beings on the earth. Still, a rat can give birth to its offspring all by itself, but why is that not happening with humans? Is it just for psychological reasons? Or have humans become weak? If there is a young girl who doesn't know anything about giving birth, what are the chances that the baby and the mom will make it?

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    I wonder why this question is down voted. If you guys state a reason, It would help me very much as not to repeat the mistake again. – dhilipsiva Aug 18 '13 at 19:09
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    This question makes assumptions that aren't true, which may be part of the reason it is downvoted. Also plenty of animals die giving birth, just as humans do. – justkt Aug 18 '13 at 22:39
  • @justkt Forgive my assumptions. Guess I was ignorant. And some part of the questions came out wrong when It was not what I meant. I ll see to that I wont repeat this mistake again. Thanks. – dhilipsiva Aug 19 '13 at 6:16
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    @dhilipsiva I've changed the title to focus more on the human aspect, which seems to be what you're mostly interested in (and is also the only part that's really on-topic here). Please feel free to edit further, or even roll back the edit, if you don't believe it improves your question. – user420 Aug 19 '13 at 11:54
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    Because we desire and seek for a very low level of infant mortality. Medical advances have drastically reduced infant, neonatal, and perinatal mortality to the point where it is an exception to have a stillbirth, or a child that dies near full term. Without active medical involvement during pregnancy and birth, we would be losing many more children, and mothers, at birth. Consider the RH factor, only understood in the early 1930s. We could go back to all home births with no medical intervention, but emotionally the toll a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death is too great for most. – Adam Davis Jun 13 '14 at 0:02

One of the core reasons for this is actually a side-effect of the 'most intelligent beings on the planet' - we have very big brains.

Evolution has taken us pretty much to the limit on size at birth - we are already almost the least developed physically at birth. Many mammals can walk an hour after birth, but we have developed large brains, and large heads.

A certain amount of adjustment to a mother's hips has also taken place - widening more would severely impact the ability to walk or run.

What this means is that there is a small, but real risk that the baby will not be born unassisted, and that there is a fair amount of stretching and relaxing required during birth, as well as the potential for stitches and other medical assistance afterwards.

So many people prefer to have this assistance with them, just in case. Especially for their first child.

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    That's the biggest thing; we evolved (or were created as you prefer) to be able to outthink all of God's other creatures, most of which are heavier, faster, and/or better armed than we are. But, that bigger brain means a bigger head, meaning more difficulty getting out of the birth canal, and it also means that human babies are among the most helpless for the longest of the entire animal kingdom, while their primary advantage - their brain - develops. Most other animals are mobile within weeks, if not days or even hours, while a human baby doesn't even roll over on its own for months. – KeithS Aug 26 '13 at 18:57
  • And, being this intelligent and social means we can give assistance to women giving birth. We can even train specialist individuals who do that all the time. I don't know of other animals that've managed that. – Remco Jun 26 '15 at 9:48

Humans are fully capable of having unassisted births, and many chose to have them. Tradition, herd mentality, increased medical knowledge, and (unfortunatly) economical gain have shaped the way child birth is carried out in the world today (with great variety), but the way we birth says nothing about our physical capabilites to do so on our own.

It is entirely impossible to say how any birth will end, complications can arise in a hospital birth, or unassisted or with a midwife at home. In both cases complications may arise from malpractice or unforseen events. A birth that could have ended well at home unassisted could go terribly wrong in the hospital (due to a high level of intervention, for example), and vice versa.

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    No worries. I've edited my answer to reflect your edited question. – Mia Clarke Aug 19 '13 at 10:05
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    @MiaClarke - regarding your link, it remains a fact that neonatal deaths at homebirths assisted by non-nurse midwives (i.e. midwives who are not CNMs) or unassisted in the U. S. are 300% higher than hospital births. A study of Oregon homebirths by a homebirth midwife found an 800% higher neonatal death rate. I'm not saying that unassisted births can't go well, just that hospitals and midwives who are also nurses have a much better track record of keeping babies alive. – justkt Aug 19 '13 at 18:45
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    I was not making a case for either, I was only talking about what we are physically capable of or not. The link I posted was to highlight the fact that being in a hospital does not automatically mean that you are protected from anything that could possibly go wrong, and that sometimes it can even be preferable to not be in that setting, as there are factors there that may cause things to go horribly wrong that are not present at for example a midwife-led birthing center. – Mia Clarke Aug 19 '13 at 20:13
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    "Tradition, herd mentality, and (unfortunatly) economical gain"...umm...sure...but your also missing things like Medical Improvements, helping each other, modern technologies, etc. Your answer seems to imply that there's no statistical reason to give birth in a hospital. – DA01 Aug 20 '13 at 2:04
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    @MiaClarke - your answer itself may be intended to be written in a neutral manner, but the article you linked to is as biased as the blog posts on statistics of homebirth deaths under care of a direct-entry midwife, which does reflect on your answer. A source such as Lamaze International, which still has a bias but tries fairly hard to look at the evidence and speculates a lot less than the source you linked, might help improve your answer. – justkt Aug 20 '13 at 14:49

I would like to add (to expand upon @Adam Davis' comment) the concept of infant mortality.

Because of our civilisation and technology we know that by even some basic intervention the risk of mother or child dying in child birth can be reduced.

In the last century or so we have reduced mother's death in childbirth from 1% (my great-grandmother died in childbirth for example) to 0.013% (I personally know of no one in the modern era dying in childbirth) and infant mortality has fallen dramatically (depending where you're born).

We simply don't think this way about non-human animals reproduction.

According to some seconds of internet research: about 1% of cats and 2% of dogs will have birthing related complications. Apparently this number in unassisted cattle and goats births is very high. Apparently miniature horses nearly always need assistance, as do many small breeds of dogs, for example some breed of Chihuahuas can need cesearian sections.

So really in a reproductive sense we're normal animals, but yes, with very big brains that in this regard we've used in a good way (to save more women and babies!).

There's the whole other discussion about "litter sizes", which is the work around in case some % of your offspring just don't make it. Obviously many animals use this strategy. But that is a different Q&A.

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    This is really the main thing. Humans are able to deliver a cihld unassisted 95% of the time or more. It's just we consider those totally unacceptable chances, so we use assistance to bring it as close to 100% as we can get. – Erik Jun 26 '15 at 7:10

There's a big difference between "need assistance" and "want assistance" in childbirth. Think about what our culture communicates about childbirth. Many describe it as 10 times worse than a visit to the dentist.

No surprise that so many want assistance. And since it will only happen a small number of times for most, arranging for assistance is no big deal. Most deliveries are about pain management. That is not to say there aren't real needs in birth. But statistically, they are small numbers.

  • If you're going to cite statistics, please provide references. In the US, about 1 in 3 births are delivered by c-section. Even if half of them are purely elective (less than 1 percent is a far more realistic number for purely elective c-sections), that's not what I would refer to as a statistically small number. – user420 Aug 27 '13 at 16:05
  • In the US the numbers are also quite high. In the Netherlands, C-sections make up less than 8%. – Erik Jun 26 '15 at 14:21

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