The Protective Effects of Childbirth
Amy R. Sobie
One of the population controllers’ favorite techniques is to portray pregnancy as dangerous, burdensome and demeaning to women. Some have labeled it an “epidemic,” or a “disease.”(1) At a Planned Parenthood conference, for example, one speaker described abortion as an “effective treatment” for “the number two sexually transmitted disease”–unplanned pregnancy.(2)
But population control zealots have failed to prove that pregnancy is, in fact, harmful to women. Indeed, a number of studies point to the opposite conclusion: that pregnancy generally benefits women’s health. Yet these studies have been virtually ignored by the medical community and the secular media. According to researcher Thomas Strahan:
One relatively unexamined issue is the important role that childbirth and lactation play in the overall health of a woman. The failure of the body to experience these events appears to cause malfunctions which frequently result in health problems later in life, including possible increased risks from various types of cancer.(3)
As this article will show, full-term pregnancy has been shown to reduce women’s risk of disease, improve their mental health and improve the outcome of their future pregnancies.
Reducing the Risk of Cancer
According to national health statistics, approximately one in eight American women will have breast cancer in her lifetime. Each year, an estimated 175,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 43,500 women die from it.3 These numbers have led in recent years to a nationally-publicized campaign to educate women on breast cancer prevention and treatment.
What is seldom–if ever–emphasized in public discussions on preventing breast cancer is the fact that having a full-term pregnancy has been linked to a decrease in breast cancer risk–the earlier the better. A major study of 250,000 women from around the world found that those who have their first child by age 18 have only about one-third the risk of breast cancer faced by women whose first birth occurs at age 35 or later.(4)
Another large study published in 1989 by the Centers for Disease Control examined data from eight population-based U.S. cancer registries and found that lactation also plays a role in reducing breast cancer. The more children a woman had and the longer the duration of breast-feeding after birth, the lower her risk of developing breast cancer.(5)
Pregnancy and childbirth have also been linked to two other diseases that affect women: ovarian and endometrial cancer. Studies have shown that women who have never had children are twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer–which takes the lives of about 14,000 American women each year–compared to those who have given birth.(6) As with breast cancer, the more full-term pregnancies a woman had, the lower her risk of ovarian cancer.(7)
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Childbearing is the most important known factor in preventing ovarian cancer, suggesting that hormones play a role in its development.”(8) Several studies have also shown that having few or no children is also a risk factor for endometrial cancer.8
Achieving Healthy Pregnancies
Having a previous full-term pregnancy can also improve the outcome of subsequent pregnancies. For instance, one study found that women with more children experience less intense pain during subsequent deliveries than women with no or few children.(9) Another study found that women with two previous pregnancies have 22 percent less risk of retained placenta and/or postpartum hemorrhage during subsequent deliveries compared to women with only one previous pregnancy.(10)
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is experienced by 10-12 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. Eclampsia (convulsions caused by hypertension) and pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure with edema or abnormal protein in the urine) are the leading causes of pregnancy-related maternal death in the western world, with 50-60 percent of those deaths caused by cerebral hemorrhage brought on by hypertension.(11)
Studies have found, however, that women who have had a previous pregnancy have a lower risk of pre-eclampsia in subsequent pregnancies than women who are experiencing their first pregnancy. (Incidently, women with a previous abortion have a higher risk of both pre-eclampsia and eclampsia.)(12) Two other studies also found that women have a reduced risk of hypertension with each succeeding birth.(13)
Among American women, ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of pregnancy-related maternal death in the first trimester.(14) One study found that women who had carried a previous pregnancy to term had half the risk of ectopic pregnancy as women who had no previous deliveries.(15) Conversely, other studies have found that women with a history of abortion have an increased risk of subsequent ectopic pregnancy compared to women who had previously carried to term.(16)
Avoiding Risky Behavior
Childbirth has been shown to have a positive impact on women’s mental health as well. A 1992 Canadian study that examined more than 1,000 women health care workers, lawyers, engineers and accountants found that married women with children had the highest levels of psychological well-being compared to married and single women who did not have children. Researcher Ethel Roskies concluded that “childless women don’t really get much out of giving up having children.”(17)
In fact, a study examining all women in Finland of reproductive age over a seven year period found that women who carried to term were half as likely to die within the following year as women who had not been pregnant, and three-and-a-half times less likely to die as women who had abortions.(18) Delivering women were less likely to die across all categories: natural deaths, accidents, suicides, and homicides.
While motherhood has been shown to decrease the likelihood that a woman will engage in risk-taking behavior, abortion has been linked to an increase in self-destructive behavior. Research on Canadian women, for example, found that post-abortive women were treated for accidents or conditions resulting from violence 24 percent more often than women who had given birth.(19)
A recent Elliot Institute study that followed women for up to six years after they aborted or gave birth found that the women in the study who carried to term had significantly fewer mental health claims than women who aborted. Post-abortive women were more than twice as likely to have had between two and nine treatments for mental health problems than women who gave birth.(20) This confirms previous studies that found lower rates of consultations and hospital admissions for psychiatric reasons among postpartum women compared to post-abortive women.(21)
Abortion advocates argue that teen mothers suffer from psychological distress and are more likely to fail in school, have additional out-of-wedlock births, and live in poverty than teens who do not have children. However, a recent study found that teen moms were as well-adjusted or even better adjusted than their peers and reported less stress, less reliance on coping strategies such as denial, less need for social support and greater satisfaction with the support they received.(22)
The researchers concluded: “For some teens becoming a mother may serve a protective function if the teen is already living in a stressful environment . . . [and] may afford the girls special social status within the family that actually reduces some more typical life challenges (such as the need to find a job while in school).”22
Other studies have found that young women who had previously carried a pregnancy to term and had no history of abortion were less likely to use drugs than women who had abortions.(23) A study of teenage girls in inner city Boston, for example, found that those with two or more children were much less likely to use drugs than those without children.(24)
Giving birth has also been shown to reduce the incidence of smoking among women.(25) One study found that women who had abortions had higher levels of smoking (56.1 percent) compared to women with previous “unwanted” pregnancies carried to term (52.4 percent) and those with “wanted” pregnancies carried to term (41.5 percent).(26)
These studies, along with many others, clearly contradict the unsubstantiated assumption that carrying a so-called “unwanted” pregnancy to term is more harmful to women than undergoing an abortion. Unfortunately, the protective effects of childbirth in lowering a woman’s risk of psychological problems, substance abuse, smoking, reproductive problems, pregnancy complications and certain types of cancer have received scant attention.
If women continue to delay childbirth, or do not have children at all, it is likely that these types of problems will continue moving in an upward trend. These unhealthy trends are not only aggravated by the loss of the protective effects of childbirth, but are also made worse by the independent negative effects of abortion and contraception.
The risks that women face by delaying or not having children may also affect their children. Children born prematurely, or to women suffering from depression or self-destructive tendencies, are more likely to have physical and emotional problems. On a social scale, increased health care costs, lost work time, and the disruption of families caused by a mother’s illness or early death are all affected by these unhealthy trends toward delayed childbirth and abortion.
Women who preparing to be married should be informed by their doctors of the benefits of having children early in marriage and about the health problems associated with delaying childbirth. Also, additional research into the benefits of childbirth and the effects of delayed childbirth are clearly warranted.
Finally, many states are required by law to provide booklets to women considering abortion with information about the risks and benefits of abortion and childbirth. Pro-life advocates should actively work, if necessary through civil suits, to ensure that these booklets accurately represent all the latest information about abortion’s risks and the benefits of childbirth compared to delayed childbirth.
Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review, Vol. 9, No. 2; April-June 2001. Copyright 2001, Elliot Institute.
- Higher Death Rates After Abortion Found in U.S., Finland and Denmark: Studies Find Abortion Is Not Safer Than Childbirth
- Multiple Abortions Increase Risk of Maternal Death: New Study
- Most Studies Show Abortion Linked To Increased Mental Health Problems
1. 11 Million Teenagers: What Can Be Done About the Epidemic of Adolescent Pregnancies in the United States (New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 1976); and “Disease of Unwanted Pregnancy,” Time, 84, Sept. 15, 1967.
3. T. Strahan, “Childbirth as Protective of the Health of Women in Contrast to Induced Abortion – I. Breast, Ovarian and Endometrial Cancer,” Assoc. for Interdisciplinary Research Bulletin, 12(2):1, Jan./Feb. 1998.
5. P.M. Layde et al., “The Independent Associations of Parity, Age at First Full Term Pregnancy, and Duration of Breastfeeding with the Risk of Breast Cancer,” J. Clinic Epidemiology, 42(10):936, 1989.
6. “Cancer Facts and Figures – 1993,” American Cancer Society as quoted in T. Strahan, “Women’s Health and Abortion – II. Risk of Premature Death in Women from Induced Abortion: Preliminary Findings,” Assoc. for Interdisciplinary Research Newsletter, 5(2):5-6, Spring 1993.
13. Strickland, et. al., “The relationship between abortion in the first pregnancy and development of pregnancy-induced hypertension in the subsequent pregnancy,” American J. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 154:146-148, 1986; and D.A. Savitz and J. Zhang, “Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension in North Carolina, 1988 and 1989,” American J. Public Health, 82(5):675-679, May 1992.
14. T. Strahan, “Childbirth as Protective of the Health of Women in Contrast to Induced Abortion – IV. Reproductive Complications and Infections,” Assoc. for Interdisciplinary Research Bulletin, 13(1):8, July/Aug. 1998.
16. C. Tharaux-Deneux, “Risk of Ectopic Pregnancy and Previous Induced Abortion,” American J. Public Health, 88(3):401, March 1998; J. Daling, et.al., “Ectopic Pregnancy in Relation to Previous Induced Abortion,” JAMA, 253(7):1005-1008, Feb. 15, 1985; and A. Kalandidi, et. al., “Induced Abortions, Contraceptive Practices and Tobacco Smoking as Risk Factors for Ectopic Pregnancy in Athens, Greece,” British J. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 98:207-213, Feb. 1991.
20. P. Coleman and D. Reardon, “State-Funded Abortions vs. Deliveries: A Comparison of Subsequent Mental Health Claims Over Six Years,” poster presented at the 12th annual meeting of the American Psychological Society, Miami Beach, FL, June 2000.
21. T. Strahan, “Childbirth as Protective of the Health of Women In Contrast to Induced Abortion – III. Mental Health and Well-Being,” Assoc. for Interdisciplinary Research Bulletin, 12(4):3-4, May/June 1998.