UnBreaking Birth – An Illuminating Lecture

Ryan McAllisterRyan McAllister, PhD, is a parent, a biophysicist, an Assistant Professor of Physics and Oncology at Georgetown University, and also a volunteer who supports parents and families. Over the last 10 years he has been studying the medicalization of childbirth in U.S. hospitals, and has portrayed his work through the projects UnBreaking Birth and Not Just Skin. Visit UnBreaking Birth here

What is the motivation behind UnBreaking Birth?

In comparison with other countries and with what it could be, the U.S. maternity care system has profoundly failed, but many people either do not know something is wrong, are not aware of the severity of the problems, or do not know that there is a solution at hand.

UnBreaking Birth is an attempt to collect and present this information in a comprehensible and verifiable form. We have attempted to organize and share scientific and medical information without using jargon or graphic images. We have illustrated these kinds of information with personal narratives.

When expecting a baby for the first time, there is so much for a couple to think about besides critically examining the birth system they are about to traverse. Let us not leave them alone facing a broken system.

What do you mean that the U.S. maternity care system has profoundly failed?


Highly-trained specialists working in well-equipped hospitals manage most births. Seen this way, one might assume that our system is safe, evidence-based, and effective. One might explain the high cost as a necessary trade-off for quality service while complications, injuries, and deaths might be explained as unavoidable.

But overwhelming evidence shows that we’re living with a system that isn’t very good at all, on average. Instead, the U.S. birth care system has saddled millions of women with expensive over-treatment, unnecessary complications, and avoidable risks. Specific indicators that we have a serious problem include:

  • there are terrible health disparities by race and socioeconomic status
  • infant and maternal mortality rates are higher than in 45 other nations
  • the maternal mortality rate has risen every year since 1995 while in most other countries it has decreased
  • only 25% of obstetric practice guidelines are based on good scientific evidence, many are overtly contra-indicated
  • common hospital policies are not in the best interest of moms and babies
  • and we spend more than any other nation on healthcare

What can I start with to understand the maternity care crisis and solutions?

If your internet connection supports video or video download, consider watching the lecture and panel discussion under the videos page. If not, both the transcript of the talk and the slides are available as files on the videos page under the lecture.

What are the values behind UnBreaking Birth?

We want all women to have access to information, choice of birth care provider, and kind and respectful treatment. We also want all newborns to have kind and respectful treatment.

Join us in this exploration of what’s gone wrong with birth in the U.S, the impact on mothers and babies, and how we can unbreak birth.
There is also a panel discussion where mothers and birth care providers share their perspectives below:

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