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What having a baby was like the year you were born

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Keystone // Getty Images

What having a baby was like the year you were born

Having a baby might seem like a relatively straightforward proposition—simple, if far from easy. Get pregnant, wait nine months, go into labor, and emerge from the process with a brand new human to care for.

But in reality, there’s so much more to it than that. The societal practices surrounding childbirth have changed radically over the last hundred years alone. Some of the biggest changes include increased access to family planning services, the ways expectant mothers care for themselves and their unborn children, and how and where babies are born.

Medical advances like in-vitro fertilization have also enabled women who have difficulty conceiving naturally to join the world’s ranks of mothers. The average age of mothers in the United States has been creeping ever upward in recent decades, thanks in part to these advances and in part to changing social attitudes about women in the workforce and marriage. These stats are no-doubt encouraging to women who wish to start a family only after they’ve settled with a partner in a stable career. The timeframe for procreation has widened over the years, and the current world record-setter for natural birth is a woman who had a child at age 57.

Once pregnant, women are faced with medical options for delivery, and they often struggle with the decision to take advantage of pain relief or to deliver their children “naturally.” Early in the century, drugs that knocked women out for the course of their delivery were wildly popular but later led many women to complain that they could hardly remember giving birth at all. Later on in the century, many women began opting for C-sections.

In response, some midwives, doulas, and other natural birth proponents began advocating for a return to traditional methods of giving birth, free of much medical intervention, and instead relying on age-old tricks like gravity to ease the pain of childbirth. Their suggestions made them plenty of enemies, but also found proponents within the typical Western medical model.

To explore what having a baby was like in every year of the past century, Stacker compiled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on birth rates, infant mortality, and life expectancy, as well as Social Security Administration data on historical baby name popularity. Stacker also included the fertility rate and the crude birth rates⁠—meaning the total number live births per 1,000 women between 15 and 44, and the number of live births per 1,000 of the general population, respectively.

Click through for a look at what having a baby was like during each year of the past century.

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Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

1919: The Spanish flu impacts fertility

- Total births: 2.74 million (fertility rate: 111.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 26.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 86.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 54.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: John, William, James; Girls: Mary, Helen, Dorothy

The Spanish flu that swept the globe in 1918 and 1919 had two interesting effects on fertility. In the short term, the pandemic caused birth rates to decline simply because so many women of childbearing age were dying from the flu. But once the pandemic had paused, birth rates rose, which is consistent with other studies showing an increase in birth rates following a natural disaster.

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Topical Press Agency // Getty Images

1920: A revolution in childbirth

- Total births: 2.95 million (fertility rate: 117.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 27.7 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 85.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 54.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: John, William, Robert; Girls: Mary, Dorothy, Helen

Childbirth underwent profound transformations in the 1920s. The decade would see the process of giving birth shifted from one that was almost always “natural” to one in which doctors both offered and recommended that women use a range of interventions, from ether to forceps.

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Henk Albert de Klerk // Wikimedia Commons

1921: 'Twilight sleep' makes it into the encyclopedia

- Total births: 3.06 million (fertility rate: 119.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 28.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 75.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 60.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: John, Robert, William; Girls: Mary, Dorothy, Helen

“Twilight sleep” had been popular in Europe for about 20 years when anesthetic doctors began using it to help women forget the pain of childbirth in the United States. In 1921, its place in society was cemented with inclusion in that year’s “Collier’s New Encyclopedia.”

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Wellcome Images // Wikimedia Commons

1922: The DeLee-Hillis stethoscope is born

- Total births: 2.88 million (fertility rate: 111.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 26.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 76.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 59.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: John, Robert, William; Girls: Mary, Dorothy, Helen

Dr. Joseph DeLee was the author of one of the most popular obstetric textbooks in the 1920s, and in 1922, he published a report on a device he claimed to have been working on for several years—the head stethoscope. A colleague, David Hillis, claimed to have also invented the stethoscope, so the device, which is still used today, is frequently known as the DeLee-Hillis stethoscope.

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Miquel Biarnés // Wikimedia Commons

1923: A famous composer dies in childbirth

- Total births: 2.91 million (fertility rate: 110.5 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 26 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 77.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 57.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: John, Robert, William; Girls: Mary, Dorothy, Helen

One of the most famous composers of the 1920s, Dora Pejacevic, died of complications from childbirth in 1923. Pajacevic was 37 when she died, which was—especially at the time—a relatively late age at which to give birth.

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Wellcome Images // Wikimedia Commons

1924: Early contraceptive measures

- Total births: 2.98 million (fertility rate: 110.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 26.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 70.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 59.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, John, William; Girls: Mary, Dorothy, Helen

An episode of the television show “Downton Abbey” in which one of the characters purchases birth control for another set off a flurry of research into what kind of birth control would have been available to women in England in 1924. While condoms were the most widely used form of birth control at the time, a version of a cervical cap might have also been available—along with a sponge or a diaphragm.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum // Wikimedia Commons

1925: The frontier nursing service is founded

- Total births: 2.91 million (fertility rate: 106.6 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 25.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 71.7 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 59
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, John, William; Girls: Mary, Dorothy, Betty

Mary Breckinridge started one of the first midwifery schools in America with the founding of the Frontier Nursing Service in Hyden, Ky., in 1925. The rural location was due to the original primary purpose of midwifery in the United States—to provide an alternative for women who lived far from hospitals and who could not afford costly home doctor visits.

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Bain Collection/Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

1926: A queen is born

- Total births: 2.84 million (fertility rate: 102.6 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 24.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 73.3 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 56.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, John, James; Girls: Mary, Dorothy, Betty

Few single births make as big a cultural impact as royalty. And the British public had just such a birth to commemorate in 1926, when the future Queen of England, Elizabeth II, was born to her mother, the Duchess of York, in London.

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National Photo Company Collection/Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

1927: Testing for pregnancy hormones

- Total births: 2.80 million (fertility rate: 99.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 23.5 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 64.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 60.4
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, John, James; Girls: Mary, Dorothy, Betty

In 1927, a breakthrough in pregnancy detection occurred when scientists discovered that they could test for chemical indicators a woman was pregnant before she missed a period or began to show. Scientists injected a pregnant woman’s urine into rats and discovered that the rats would go into heat. Thus, the pregnancy hormone, HGT, was discovered.

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Wellcome Images // Wikimedia Commons

1928: The National Birthday Trust Fund begins advocating

- Total births: 2.67 million (fertility rate: 93.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 22.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 68.7 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 56.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, John, James; Girls: Mary, Betty, Dorothy

The charmingly named National Birthday Trust Fund was established in the United Kingdom in 1928 with the aim of improving the lives of women, including pregnancy and childbirth. Several years later, one of the most prominent members accidentally divulged on a radio program that she wanted to help alleviate the pain of childbirth, unleashing significant blowback.

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FORTEPAN/Góg Emese // Wikimedia Commons

1929: The Sheppard-Towner Act expires

- Total births: 2.58 million (fertility rate: 89.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 21.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 67.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 57.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Betty, Dorothy

The 1921 Sheppard-Towner Act provided federal funding for maternity and childcare. Infant mortality decreased during the years the act was in effect, but despite this success, the act was still repealed in 1929.

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Fox Photos // Getty Images

1930: Establishing the American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecology

- Total births: 2.62 million (fertility rate: 89.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 21.3 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 64.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 59.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Betty, Dorothy

The American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecology was established in 1927. It is the country’s third-oldest medical specialty and played a vital role in standardizing training for obstetricians and gynecologists, by establishing standards that they would need to live up to to receive and maintain their certifications.

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P. Larsen/National Library of Medicine // Wikimedia Commons

1931: Depression births

- Total births: 2.51 million (fertility rate: 84.6 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 20.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 61.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 61.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Betty, Dorothy

The Great Depression was in full swing by 1931, but the number of families deciding to give birth in hospitals remained high. At the hospital, almost every birth was accompanied by the administration of twilight sleep, leading many women to claim that they couldn’t remember giving birth at all.

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Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

1932: Unemployment insurance extends a lifeline

- Total births: 2.44 million (fertility rate: 81.7 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 19.5 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 57.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 62.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Betty, Barbara

To mitigate the impact of the Depression, several states introduced unemployment insurance in 1932. These weekly cash payments to workers who were unemployed through no fault of their own extended a critical lifeline to parents struggling to pay for their children’s food, shelter, and medical care. It also helped families pay for medical services during pregnancy itself.

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A. Jackson Co./Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

1933: The White House Conference on Child Health and Protection

- Total births: 2.31 million (fertility rate: 76.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 18.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 58.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 63.3
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Betty, Barbara

The White House Conference on Child Health and Protection issued startling findings in 1933. It found that despite the advances in medical technology between 1915 and 1930, maternal mortality had not declined, and infant deaths had actually increased. The conference noted that this may have been due, in part, to an overuse of medical interventions during pregnancy in hospitals.

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National Library of Medicine // Wikimedia Commons

1934: A low high for maternal mortality

- Total births: 2.4 million (fertility rate: 78.5 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 19 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 60.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 61.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Betty, Barbara

Maternal mortality hit a dire low in 1934. That year, women had the same chance of dying in childbirth that they would have had in 1860, despite leaps in sanitation, technology, and medical knowledge in the intervening decades.

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Topical Press Agency // Getty Images

1935: Midwifery dips in popularity

- Total births: 2.38 million (fertility rate: 77.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 18.7 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 55.7 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 61.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Shirley, Barbara

In 1900, roughly half of American babies were delivered by a midwife. By 1935, that percentage had dipped to just 15%. Of those still using midwives, many did so because they were far from hospitals, or because hospital care was out of their budgets.

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Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

1936: A birth rate low

- Total births: 2.36 million (fertility rate: 75.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 18.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 57.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 58.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Shirley, Barbara

In 1936, the birth rate in the United States fell to an all-time low. Public health experts have attributed this record low to the stock market crash of 1929, which made many families believe that they could not afford to support a large number of children—or any at all.

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Andreas Bohnenstengel // Wikimedia Commons

1937: A controversial obstetrician graduates

- Total births: 2.41 million (fertility rate: 77.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 18.7 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 54.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 60
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Barbara, Patricia

Frederick Leboyer, a controversial obstetrician who believed that the first few moments of a baby’s life outside its mother’s womb had a profound impact on the rest of the child’s life, graduated from the Université de Paris in 1937. Leboyer’s theories would go on to be debated and employed for decades.

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Carsten/Three Lions // Getty Images

1938: A milestone in hospital delivery

- Total births: 2.5 million (fertility rate: 79.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 19.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 51 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 63.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Barbara, Patricia

In 1938, a milestone for hospital delivery was passed, with half of all American women giving birth in hospitals. The percentage would never fall below 50% again.

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Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

1939: World war and patriotic births

- Total births: 2.47 million (fertility rate: 77.6 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 18.8 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 48 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 63.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, John; Girls: Mary, Barbara, Patricia

The outbreak of World War II in Europe lead to the idea of childbirth as patriotic. Having babies was vital for national security, the thinking went, because the birth rate of a nation would determine how many of its future citizens could defend the country in war and provide economic productivity in order to finance war efforts.

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Bush/Express // Getty Images

1940: Long recuperation times in the hospital

- Total births: 2.56 million (fertility rate: 79.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 19.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 47 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 62.9
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Mary, Barbara, Patricia

In the 1940s, women were kept in the hospital for extended periods after giving birth—up to 10 days. At the beginning of these long stays, women were pushed together in large rooms to go through labor, then sequestered in sterile solitary rooms to actually give birth.

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Latente囧www.latente.it // Flickr

1941: An artistic depiction of birth

- Total births: 2.7 million (fertility rate: 83.4 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 20.3 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 45.3 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 64.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Mary, Barbara, Patricia

One of the most famous artists of the 20th century would produce a seminal work on birth in 1941. The American painter Jackson Pollock finished his painting “Birth” in 1941—endeavoring to capture in color the chaotic and overwhelming experience of giving birth.

 

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Imperial War Museum // Wikimedia Commons

1942: The Vitamin Welfare Scheme

- Total births: 2.99 million (fertility rate: 91.5 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 22.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 40.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 66.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Mary, Barbara, Patricia

In 1942, the Vitamin Welfare Scheme was expanded in the United Kingdom to include new or nursing mothers. The aim of the social welfare scheme was to make sure that lower-income mothers could still get all the nutrients they needed to raise healthy babies—and remain healthy themselves, too.

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H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile // Getty Images

1943: The $29.50 childbirth

- Total births: 3.1 million (fertility rate: 94.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 22.7 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 40.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 63.3
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Mary, Barbara, Patricia

A sample receipt from a 1943 childbirth illuminates just how dramatically the cost of giving birth has changed over the decades. In 1943, it was not uncommon for birth to cost around $29.50. Today, that cost is typically thousands of dollars.

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Keystone/Hulton Archive // Getty Images

1944: A book on natural childbirth

- Total births: 2.94 million (fertility rate: 88.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 21.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 39.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 65.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Mary, Barbara, Linda

In 1944, an important pushback against the overwhelming tide of twilight sleep happened with the publication of Dr. Grantly Dick-Read’s book “Childbirth Without Fear.” The book advocates for natural childbirth and analyzes the root causes of American fears and anxieties surrounding the process of labor.

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Neil Nimmo/Housewife // Getty Images

1945: The baby boom begins

- Total births: 2.86 million (fertility rate: 85.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 20.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 38.3 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 65.9
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Mary, Linda, Barbara

With the war in Europe over, 1945 ushered in years of enormous prosperity for Americans. Part of the plenty the United States was now experiencing included what would become called the “baby boom” in which many couples decided to start large families.

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Reg Speller/Fox Photos // Getty Images

1946: A record high

- Total births: 3.41 million (fertility rate: 101.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 24.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 33.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 66.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Mary, Linda, Patricia

Befitting the new baby boom, more babies were born in 1946 than ever before. The 3.4 million American births marked a 20% increase from the previous year.

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FORTEPAN/Góg Emese // Wikimedia Commons

1947: The Bradley method of natural childbirth

- Total births: 3.82 million (fertility rate: 113.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 26.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 32.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 66.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Linda, Mary, Patricia

Reflecting the nation’s newfound interest in natural childbirth, a new method was pioneered in 1947. The so-called Bradley method emphasized relaxation, breathing, quiet, and comfort, and taught that a medication-free experience is best for both mother and child.

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Hulton Archive // Getty Images

1948: The Kinsey Report

- Total births: 3.64 million (fertility rate: 107.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 24.9 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 32 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 67.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Linda, Mary, Barbara

The landmark Kinsey Report of 1948 was the first to formally study sexuality on a large and public scale. Its findings focused on men, and offered a sliding scale of human sexuality and sexual orientation, rejecting the old hypothesis that humans were either homo or heterosexual.

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Three Lions // Getty Images

1949: A new high for hospital birth rates

- Total births: 3.65 million (fertility rate: 107.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 24.5 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 31.3 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 68
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Linda, Mary, Patricia

By 1949, the percentage of women giving birth in hospitals had swelled to 87%. This was in stark contrast to the only 37% of births that took place in hospitals in 1935—an incredible jump in a relatively short period of time.

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Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

1950: A Red Scare and health care

- Total births: 3.63 million (fertility rate: 106.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 24.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 29.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 68.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Linda, Mary, Patricia

As America became increasingly anti-communist in the 1950s, opposition to public health care grew. Other countries—even American allies in the Cold War—did not extend their anti-communist sentiment to health care, which led to an expansion of health care in those countries, but not in the United States.

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Dennis Rowe/BIPs // Getty Images

1951: Men in the delivery room

- Total births: 3.82 million (fertility rate: 111.5 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 24.9 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 28.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 68.4
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Linda, Mary, Patricia

While tradition typically held that men head to the pub while their wives gave birth—or at least stay out of the delivery room—by 1951, that was starting to change. The University College Hospital in London began encouraging men to join their wives that year.

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London Express // Getty Images

1952: Painless childbirth?

- Total births: 3.91 million (fertility rate: 113.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 25.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 28.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 68.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: James, Robert, John; Girls: Linda, Mary, Patricia

The theory of painless childbirth was given a major boost in 1952, when the popular French magazine Regards devoted 29 pages to the concept. The theory stressed the primary of psychology in pain and pain management and denied that childbirth had to be painful.

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Daria Serdtseva // Shutterstock

1953: Childbirth photography takes off

- Total births: 3.96 million (fertility rate: 115.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 25.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 27.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 68.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Robert, James, Michael; Girls: Mary, Linda, Deborah

While common today, childbirth photography was still a novel concept in 1953. That year, the photojournalist Helen Brush Jenkins began bringing her camera into delivery rooms, and a new genre of photography and art was born.

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George Marks/Retrofile // Getty Images

1954: Eating placenta

- Total births: 4.07 million (fertility rate: 118.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 25.3 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 26.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 69.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, James, Robert; Girls: Mary, Linda, Deborah

A study in 1954 aiming to promote lactation in new mothers led to a surprising result and recommendation. The study showed that of women who had eaten their placenta after giving birth, the majority experienced positive results in terms of lactation and breastfeeding.

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IMS Vintage Photos // Wikimedia Commons

1955: A hospital opens to midwives

- Total births: 4.1 million (fertility rate: 118.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 25 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 26.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 69.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, David, James; Girls: Mary, Deborah, Linda

In 1955, Columbia University’s hospital became the first in the U.S. to open its doors to midwives. A nurse-midwifery practice was established that year, and it is still going strong today.

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2p2play// Shutterstock

1956: La Leche League is formed

- Total births: 4.21 million (fertility rate: 121.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 25.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 26 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 69.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, James, Robert; Girls: Mary, Debra, Linda

In response to the declining rates of breastfeeding due to the increased availability of baby formula, La Leche League was formed in 1956. The League aimed to provide expecting and new mothers with all the information and resources they needed to breastfeed their children.

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Erich Auerbach // Getty Images

1957: A push for better maternal care

- Total births: 4.3 million (fertility rate: 122.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 25.3 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 26.3 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 69.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, James, David; Girls: Mary, Susan, Linda

In 1957, one nurse famously claimed that American maternal care could only be described as “sadism.” Ever since, American maternal care has wrestled with how to make childbirth as painless as possible while still respecting the sanctity of the process for both mother and child.

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FORTEPAN / Szánthó Zoltán // Wikimedia Commons

1958: A shocking article

- Total births: 4.25 million (fertility rate: 120.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 24.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 27.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 69.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, David, James; Girls: Mary, Susan, Linda

Following up on the “sadism” comments, the popular Ladies Home Journal ran a shocking article in 1958. The investigative piece quoted many women who’d had terrible experiences at the hospital, including those who had been strapped down on gurneys.

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Russell Lee/Everett Historical // Shutterstock

1959: C-section deliveries on the rise

- Total births: 4.24 million (fertility rate: 118.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 24 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 26.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 69.9
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, David, James; Girls: Mary, Susan, Linda

The 1959, C-section deliveries were on the rise. A number of articles were published promoting the practice, calling it “the safest of all major operations.”

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H. William Tetlow/Fox Photos // Getty Images

1960: A birth control pill

- Total births: 4.26 million (fertility rate: 118 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 23.7 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 26 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 69.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: David, Michael, James; Girls: Mary, Susan, Linda

In 1960, the birth control pill became available for the first time in the U.S. The pill would go on to have a major impact on family planning and pregnancy, offering families the option to limit their family size safely and reliably should they so choose.

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U.S. Navy Educational Film

1961: The U.S. Navy and childbirth

- Total births: 4.27 million (fertility rate: 117.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 23.3 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 25.3 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 70.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, David, John; Girls: Mary, Lisa, Susan

In 1961, the United States Navy released a video of an emergency childbirth on one of its ships. Beyond its medical use, the video offers a number of other tips. Among them? “Inform the husband to stroke his wife’s hair,” the video advises.

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Goodreads

1962: 'The Experience of Childbirth'

- Total births: 4.17 million (fertility rate: 112 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 22.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 25.3 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 70.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, David, John; Girls: Lisa, Mary, Susan

Sheila Kitzinger, who would go on to be called “the high priestess of natural childbirth,” published her most groundbreaking book in 1962. Called “The Experience of Childbirth,” the book advocated for women's’ needs to come first during childbirth, and argued that the sacred process of childbirth should not be interfered with.

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Lynn Gilbert // Wikimedia Commons

1963: 'The Feminine Mystique'

- Total births: 4.1 million (fertility rate: 108.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 21.7 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 25.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 69.9
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, John, David; Girls: Lisa, Mary, Susan

Another groundbreaking book was published with 1963’s “The Feminine Mystique.” Written by Betty Friedan, the book argued that women should have choices in life beyond wifedom and motherhood.

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Marion S. Trikosko/The Library of Congress // Flickr

1964: The Civil Rights Act

- Total births: 4.03 million (fertility rate: 104.7 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 21.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 24.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 70.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, John, David; Girls: Lisa, Mary, Susan

The Civil Rights Act became law in 1964, capping years of work from civil rights activists. These years of activism highlighted how racial and economic inequality contributed to discrimination and unequal outcomes in many spheres of life, including pregnancy and childbirth.

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National Archives and Records Administration // Wikimedia Commons

1965: Medicare and Medicaid become law

- Total births: 3.76 million (fertility rate: 96.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 19.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 24.7 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 70.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, John, David; Girls: Lisa, Mary, Karen

Medicare and Medicaid were passed into law in 1965. Medicaid in particular bore relevance to future and current mothers, as the legislation afforded government funds to assist with the provision of healthcare for lower-income Americans, including childbirth.

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1966: A scandalous french film

- Total births: 3.61 million (fertility rate: 90.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 18.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 23.7 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 70.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, David, James; Girls: Lisa, Kimberly, Mary

In 1966, a shocking French film—“Naissance”—depicted completely natural childbirth onscreen. The film was shown to a group of teenagers at a Detroit high school that year as part of their school’s sex education.

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Goodreads

1967: 'Six Practical Lessons for an Easy Childbirth'

- Total births: 3.52 million (fertility rate: 87.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 17.8 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 22.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 70.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, David, James; Girls: Lisa, Kimberly, Michelle

Another popular theory for an improved childbirth experience made its debut in 1967, with Elisabeth Bing and Marjorie Karmel’s “Six Practical Lessons for an Easy Childbirth.” The duo advocated breathing and relaxation techniques, along with plenty of support from family and others present in the delivery room.

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Keystone // Getty Images

1968: Allowing fathers in

- Total births: 3.5 million (fertility rate: 85.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 17.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 21.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 70.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, David, John; Girls: Lisa, Michelle, Kimberly

By 1968, some of the last hospitals to hold out on allowing fathers in the delivery room began to change their rules. One such hospital, the Jessop Hospital in the United Kingdom, acknowledged that it would need to amend its rules to “move with the times.”

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Keystone // Getty Images

1969: Woodstock and a wave of teen pregnancy

- Total births: 3.60 million (fertility rate: 86.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 17.9 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 20.9 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 70.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, David, James; Girls: Lisa, Michelle, Jennifer

The famous Woodstock music festival occurred in 1969, on the cusp of the louche and laissez-fair 1960s and ‘70s. This attitude carried over towards pregnancy, with fewer couples opting to marry just because the woman was pregnant, and teen pregnancy rates beginning to climb.

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1970: A new formula for the pill

- Total births: 3.73 million (fertility rate: 87.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 18.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 20 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 70.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, James, David; Girls: Jennifer, Lisa, Kimberly

Although oral contraceptives were a major win for the womens’ movement, a group of feminists challenged the safety of birth control pills at Congressional hearings in 1970. Thanks to their efforts, the formula was changed.

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KieferPix // Shutterstock

1971: A special birth in Santa Cruz

- Total births: 3.56 million (fertility rate: 81.6 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 17.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 19.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 71.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, James, David; Girls: Jennifer, Lisa, Kimberly

With mothers looking for hospital alternatives to deliver their babies in ways they felt were more natural and sacred, it was only a matter of time before special centers sprung up to address that need. One of the most famous—the Birth Center of Santa Cruz—was founded in California in 1972, and operates today as the Full Moon Family Wellness & Birth Center.

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1972: A Patient’s Bill of Rights

- Total births: 3.26 million (fertility rate: 73.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 18.5 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 71.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, James; Girls: Jennifer, Michelle, Lisa

In 1972, the American Hospital Association wrote the first Patient’s Bill of Rights, which safeguarded the right to private and considerate care, the right to prognosis, and the right to refuse treatment. These rights extended to pregnant mothers and to those in labor.

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Lorie Shaull // Wikimedia Commons

1973: Roe vs. Wade

- Total births: 3.14 million (fertility rate: 68.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.8 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 17.7 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 71.4
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Jason; Girls: Jennifer, Michelle, Lisa

The landmark Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973. The Court found that a woman had the right to terminate a pregnancy, stating that access to a safe and legal abortion was a constitutional right.

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USDA // Flickr

1974: Questioning IUDs

- Total births: 3.16 million (fertility rate: 67.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.8 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 16.7 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 72
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Jason, Christopher; Girls: Jennifer, Amy, Michelle

The FDA suspended sales of one IUD in 1974, following seven deaths and reports of infections in other users. A cascade of subsequent lawsuits saw other IUD makers slowly cede market territory back to other forms of birth control.

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1975: Fevered interest

- Total births: 3.14 million (fertility rate: 66 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 16.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 72.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Jason, Christopher; Girls: Jennifer, Amy, Heather

By 1975, interest in pregnancy and the birthing process had reached a fever pitch. Women wanted as much information as they could find about best practices for pregnancy and delivery. Many women and their allies cheered the trend, but not everyone was happy. “Patients nowadays want everything under the sun,” one doctor told the New York Times. “And I’m disillusioned and disgusted with most of it.”

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1976: A new data set

- Total births: 3.17 million (fertility rate: 65 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 15.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 72.9
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Jason, Christopher; Girls: Jennifer, Amy, Melissa

Befitting a time full of interest and concern with pregnancy, the United States government began measuring a new stream of data in 1976. That marked the first year national data about pregnancy rates became available.

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nd3000 // Shutterstock

1977

- Total births: 3.33 million (fertility rate: 66.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 14.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 73.3
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Jason, Christopher; Girls: Jennifer, Melissa, Amy

The use of painkillers and other drugs given during labor steadily rose during the 1970s. By 1977, the average number of drugs present at childbirth was 15.

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sirtravelalot // Shutterstock

1978: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

- Total births: 3.33 million (fertility rate: 65.5 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 13.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 73.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Jason, Christopher; Girls: Jennifer, Melissa, Jessica

In 1978, women won a major victory with the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which stipulated that women could not be discriminated against because they were pregnant, on the basis that such discrimination amounts to sex discrimination.

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Sergey Mironov // Shutterstock

1979: Questions about analgesics

- Total births: 3.49 million (fertility rate: 67.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 13.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 73.9
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Jason; Girls: Jennifer, Melissa, Amanda

A special meeting of the FDA was convened in 1979 to discuss troubling findings from a sample of women who had received high doses of anesthesia found in analgesics. Behavioral and motor defects were found in some of the children of these women.

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Gorodenkoff // Shutterstock

1980: A decade of choices and optimism

- Total births: 3.61 million (fertility rate: 68.4 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.9 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 12.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 73.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Jason; Girls: Jennifer, Amanda, Jessica

The 1980s were a decade of opportunity and information for pregnant women and their families. Expanded access to prenatal care helped more women than ever start their babies’ lives off on a healthy note, and ultrasound technology allowed parents to hear their child’s heartbeat before it was even born.

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Gorodenkoff // Shutterstock

1981: Chair birth

- Total births: 3.63 million (fertility rate: 67.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.8 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 11.9 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 74.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jennifer, Jessica, Amanda

The seemingly never-ending quest to ease the pain of childbirth found a new frontier in 1981. Some doctors suggested that giving birth sitting in a chair would be significantly less painful than giving birth in the traditional position lying down.

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1982: The Midwives Alliance of North America

- Total births: 3.68 million (fertility rate: 67.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.9 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 11.5 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 74.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jennifer, Jessica, Amanda

The Midwives Alliance of North America was launched in 1982 by Ina May Gaskin. The stated goal of the Alliance is to strengthen and unify midwives across the continent, allowing them to better serve new mothers and their babies.

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Музей Космонавтики // Wikimedia Commons

1983: A pregnant rat in space

- Total births: 3.64 million (fertility rate: 65.7 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 11.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 74.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jennifer, Jessica, Amanda

The Soviet Union launched a spaceship with a pregnant rat on board in 1983. The aim of the study was to investigate the impact of time in space on an expecting mother—and the baby once born. The Soviets found that the time in space was harder on the mother than it was on the fetus.

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nevodka // Shutterstock

1984: The first embryo baby

- Total births: 3.67 million (fertility rate: 65.5 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 74.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jennifer, Jessica, Ashley

The world’s first frozen embryo baby, Zoe, was born in 1984 by C-section; the embryo was frozen for two months before implantation. This discovery meant medical facitilites could now freeze and store embryos for future mothers. 

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Andrew Toth/Soho House // Getty Images

1985: The Birth Project

- Total births: 3.76 million (fertility rate: 66.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.8 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 10.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 74.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Jennifer

In 1985, artist Judy Chicago commissioned dozens of needleworkers around the world to create a large tapestry. The subject? Birth—a universal experience Chicago felt had been unduly excluded and trivialized in a male-dominated art world.

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1986: A new maternal mortality initiative

- Total births: 3.76 million (fertility rate: 65.4 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 10.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 74.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Amanda

The CDC began collecting information on maternal mortality in 1986. The center was interested in filling in gaps in data on the particular causes of death in expectant mothers.

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In The Light Photography // Shutterstock

1987: The Safe Motherhood Fund

- Total births: 3.81 million (fertility rate: 65.8 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.7 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 10.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 74.9
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Amanda

Interest in maternal mortality took a global turn in 1987. The World Bank and the World Health Organization started a Safe Motherhood Fund, which aimed to reduce the worldwide total of women who died in childbirth by half by the year 2000.

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Natalia Deriabina // Shutterstock

1988: Moderating the natural movement

- Total births: 3.91 million (fertility rate: 67.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 16 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 10 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 74.9
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Amanda

It was a long push and pull over the course of the century between natural and medical birthing, and 1988 saw a moderation in the natural movement’s ideas. Leaders called for recognition and easing of female pain. “Natural childbirth is alive and well,'' the director of obstetrics at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center told the New York Times, ''but it has become a marriage of biology and technology.''

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Natalia Deriabina // Shutterstock

1989: Squatting birth

- Total births: 4.04 million (fertility rate: 69.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 16.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 9.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 75.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Brittany

The anecdotal evidence of several years prior was formalized in 1989 when a study found that squatting eased the pain of delivery. The study found that women using a special squatting pillow required forceps for delivery at half the rate of women who did not.

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Image Point Fr // Shutterstock

1990: The first implant

- Total births: 4.16 million (fertility rate: 70.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 16.7 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 9.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 75.4
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Brittany

The first contraceptive implant was approved by the FDA in 1990. Called Norplant, the birth control consisted of six matchstick-sized silicone pieces inserted into a woman’s upper arm.

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MJTH // Shutterstock

1991: A focus on the mother

- Total births: 4.11 million (fertility rate: 69.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 16.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 75.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Ashley, Jessica, Brittany

The 1990s were a good time to be a pregnant mother, as greater attention shifted towards the importance of the welfare of the mother during pregnancy. This new line of thought believed that the better the mother’s physical and emotional health during pregnancy, the better the health of the baby.

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AVM Images // Shutterstock

1992: The Professional Midwifery Practice Act

- Total births: 4.07 million (fertility rate: 68.4 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.8 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 8.5 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 75.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Ashley, Jessica, Amanda

The governor of New Jersey signed a landmark bill into law in 1992 on behalf of midwives. The law emphasized that midwifery is a profession, and as such, requires a board to certify its practitioners.

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rawpixel.com // Shutterstock

1993: Changing childbirth

- Total births: 4 million (fertility rate: 67 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 8.4 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 75.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Sarah

A group of British midwives convened in 1993 to write what would become a seminal report. The report's recommendations, findings, and practices continue to influence maternity care decades after its publication.

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Bricolage // Shutterstock

1994: A decline in premartial pregnancy

- Total births: 3.95 million (fertility rate: 65.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 15 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 75.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Sarah

A census report published in 1994 found that premarital pregnancy had leveled off for the first time in decades. The report found tremendous attitude changes towards premarital pregnancy indicating greater societal level of acceptances over the course of the years studied, dating back to 1930.

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1995: A new high mark for contraception

- Total births: 3.9 million (fertility rate: 64.6 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 75.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Matthew, Christopher; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Emily

More American women used contraception than ever before in 1995. A study that year found that 64% of American women were using some form of contraceptive, with an interesting additional finding that the number of women taking the pill had decreased, while condom use increased.

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shakishan // Shutterstock

1996: 10 steps for a Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative

- Total births: 3.89 million (fertility rate: 64.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 76.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Matthew, Jacob; Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Emily

In keeping with the recent focus on the health and wellbeing of the mother along with her child, a group of American maternity care groups created the 10 steps for a Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative. The Initiative outlined new guidelines and standards practitioners must follow in order to provide adequate maternal care.

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mimagephotography // Shutterstock

1997: The world’s oldest natural mother

- Total births: 3.88 million (fertility rate: 63.6 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 76.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Jacob, Matthew; Girls: Emily, Jessica, Ashley

A British woman set a record as the world’s oldest new natural mother at 59 in 1997. The previous record had been set in Los Angeles by a 57 year old in 1956.

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Monkey Business Images // Shutterstock

1998: Over 120 countries provide paid maternity leave

- Total births: 3.94 million (fertility rate: 64.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.3 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 76.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Michael, Jacob, Matthew; Girls: Emily, Hannah, Samantha

In 1998, a record 120 countries offered subsidized paid maternity leave and health benefits by law. The list included most developed countries. One notable exception? The United States.

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1999: Plan B

- Total births: 3.96 million (fertility rate: 64.4 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 7.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 76.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Matthew; Girls: Emily, Hannah, Alexis

A new contraception offering made its debut in 1999. Called Plan B, the pill allowed women who’d had unprotected sex to avoid waiting for weeks to find out if they were pregnant, allowing them access to a contraceptive pill that worked after sex rather than before it to prevent pregnancy.

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2000: Fewer hospital births

- Total births: 4.06 million (fertility rate: 65.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 76.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Matthew; Girls: Emily, Hannah, Madison

Although the majority of women still gave birth in hospitals, fewer women elected to do so in the 2000s than in preceding decades. The rise of alternative options, like homebirths overseen by midwives and doulas, contributed to this trend.

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Raihana Asral // Shutterstock.

2001: A hormonal patch

- Total births: 4.03 million (fertility rate: 65.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 77
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Matthew; Girls: Emily, Hannah, Madison

In 2001, the hormonal patch method of birth control became available. The patch, called Ortho Evra, made it easier for women to remember to take their birth control, requiring them only to remember to change the patch once per week.

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Paula Bronstein // Getty Images

2002: Startling findings in the developing world

- Total births: 4.02 million (fertility rate: 65 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 7 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 77
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Joshua; Girls: Emily, Madison, Hannah

An alarming report released in 2002 highlighted a startling fact. In the developing world, complications from pregnancy and childbirth were the leading cause of death among women of childbearing age.

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Photobac // Shutterstock

2003: A publishing boon

- Total births: 4.09 million (fertility rate: 66.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.1 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.85 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 77.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Joshua; Girls: Emily, Emma, Madison

Interest in pregnancy and childbirth was high in the early 2000s. A spate of books published in 2003 affirmed this interest, with topics ranging from neonatal to early child development, and even a book from renowned midwife Ina Gaskin.

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2004: A jump in maternal mortality

- Total births: 4.11 million (fertility rate: 66.4 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.79 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 77.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Joshua; Girls: Emily, Emma, Madison

The maternal mortality rate rose for the first time in decades in 2004. Although it was still low at 13 per 100,000 women, experts blamed the spike on the rise in obesity and elective C-sections.

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Africa Studio // Shutterstock

2005: New abortion restrictions

- Total births: 4.14 million (fertility rate: 66.7 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.87 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 77.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Joshua; Girls: Emily, Emma, Madison

In 2005, a wave of abortion restriction laws were passed throughout the United States. Over the course of six years, one-quarter of new restrictions were passed that year alone.

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Antonio Guillem // Shutterstock

2006: A spike in teen pregnancy

- Total births: 4.27 million (fertility rate: 68.6 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.3 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.69 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 77.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Joshua; Girls: Emily, Emma, Madison

For the first time in over a decade, teenage pregnancy rose in 2006. The new rise was attributed in part to a decline in contraceptive use following a shift in high school sexual education classes, which went from advocating contraceptive use to an abstinence-only policy.

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Suti Stock Photo // Shutterstock

2007: Sobering news for new parents

- Total births: 4.32 million (fertility rate: 69.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14.3 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.77 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.1
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Ethan; Girls: Emily, Isabella, Emma

In 2007, new parents read alarming news. Most infant car seats failed when hit by another car on the side, a study conducted that year found. The study noted that, in tests, the seat’s carrier often separated from the base completely, skidding across the floor.

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Patryk Kosmider // Shutterstock

2008: Complicated childbirths

- Total births: 4.25 million (fertility rate: 68.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 14 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.61 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.2
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Michael, Ethan; Girls: Emma, Isabella, Emily

In 2008, a shocking study found that the vast majority of women experienced some form of complication during childbirth. Of the 4.2 million babies delivered that year, 94.1 percent had some kind of pregnancy complication.

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2009: The culture wars continue

- Total births: 4.13 million (fertility rate: 66.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 13.5 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.39 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.5
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Ethan, Michael; Girls: Isabella, Emma, Olivia

In an escalation of the culture war between those who prefer natural or medically assisted childbirth, a professor made major waves in 2009. One of the world’s leading midwives—who happens to be a man—suggested that many women who elected for epidurals simply did not want to endure the pain of labor, and that they should for the good of their bond with their future child.

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YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV // Shutterstock

2010: A new decade for motherhood

- Total births: 4.00 million (fertility rate: 64.1 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 13 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.15 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Ethan, Michael; Girls: Isabella, Sophia, Emma

New data released in 2010 showed that more women than ever were having children into their 40s. Demographers attributed the shift to social factors, including more women focusing on their careers and men waiting longer to commit to children.

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2011: The cost of a newborn

- Total births: 3.95 million (fertility rate: 63.2 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 12.7 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 6.07 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Mason, William; Girls: Sophia, Isabella, Emma

In 2011, the cost of having a baby and the baby’s first few months of life fell between $20,000 and $30,000. One of the major factors in calculating this cost was health insurance, along with special formulas, clothing, and cribs.

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2012: Longer delivery times

- Total births: 3.95 million (fertility rate: 63 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 12.6 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 5.98 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Jacob, Mason, Ethan; Girls: Sophia, Emma, Isabella

The average baby took 6.5 hours to deliver in 2012. This was an increase of almost 2.5 hours from 50 years prior when babies were typically delivered in four hours.

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2013: A dubious distinction

- Total births: 3.93 million (fertility rate: 62.5 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 12.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 5.96 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.8
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Noah, Jacob, Liam; Girls: Sophia, Emma, Olivia

American births were the costliest in the world, a 2013 report found. While the average price for a natural birth in the United States was $30,000, the highest average costs in Europe topped out around $4,000, wherein many other countries it was free.

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2014: Social media babies

- Total births: 3.99 million (fertility rate: 62.9 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 12.5 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.9
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Noah, Liam, Mason; Girls: Emma, Olivia, Sophia

Childbirth hasn’t escaped the social media age. As the popularity of platforms like Facebook and Instagram exploded, many new parents opened social media accounts in their children's’ names, posting images of them on the platforms as a way to share their lives.

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2015: A pregnant baby

- Total births: 3.98 million (fertility rate: 62.5 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 12.4 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Noah, Liam, Mason; Girls: Emma, Olivia, Sophia

In a shocking development in Hong Kong, one baby was born in 2015 already pregnant. Fetus-in-fetu was not an unprecedented condition upon the baby’s birth, but an even bigger surprise was in store for the baby’s team of doctors: the baby was pregnant with twins.

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2016: A new normal

- Total births: 3.95 million (fertility rate: 62 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 12.2 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.7
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Noah, Liam, William; Girls: Emma, Olivia, Ava

For the first time ever in 2016, there were more mothers having children in their early 30s than there were younger mothers. The average age had also climbed to 28 from 24.6 in 1970.

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Canva

2017: Record low abortions

- Total births: 3.86 million (fertility rate: 60.3 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: 11.8 births per 1,000 women)
- Infant mortality rate: 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Average life expectancy at birth: 78.6
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Liam, Noah, William; Girls: Emma, Olivia, Ava

In 2017, abortion rates fell to their lowest levels ever since Roe vs. Wade. Reports on the causes of the decline are mixed, with some attributing the dropoff to improved access to contraception, and others claiming that state-level restrictions on abortion contributed to the decline.

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Canva

2018: Maternal mortality on the rise

- Total births: 3.79 million (fertility rate: 59 births per 1,000 women; crude birth rate: data not available)
- Infant mortality rate: Data not available
- Average life expectancy at birth: Data not available
- Most popular baby names: Boys: Liam, Noah, William; Girls: Emma, Olivia, Ava

While it has steadily declined in other developed countries, a troubling 2018 study found that maternal mortality in America is actually rising. One bright spot? The state of California instituted a spate of safety measures that are used at hospitals throughout the state, and have resulted in a sharp decrease in maternal mortality.

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