MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Mexico has one of the highest rates of cesarean sections in the world. Almost half of all births there are by C-section. But, as Jonathan Levinson reports from Mexico City, some women there are upset about the practice and they're looking for alternatives.
JONATHAN LEVINSON, BYLINE: In Mexico City's Noche Buena neighborhood sits the Luna Maya Birth Center. Here, one of the country's traditional practices is coming back into vogue.
UNIDENTIFIED MIDWIFE: Jennifer, Jennifer.
LEVINSON: One of the center's midwives greets about a half-dozen expectant moms and dads interested in natural birth. Jennifer Hernandez, 26 weeks pregnant, is thrilled to have an alternative to in-hospital birth.
JENNIFER HERNANDEZ: For me, it was like, oh, my gosh, yes.
LEVINSON: That's not the norm. Most moms in Mexico aren't aware of alternatives and want their deliveries in a hospital, where some of the most modern obstetric care is now available.
CRISTINA ALONSO: But the consequence of this has been a dramatic increase in cesarean section.
LEVINSON: That's Cristina Alonso. She's been a midwife for 20 years. She opened this birthing center just two years ago hoping to cut into Mexico's C-section rate, which at 49 percent is one of the highest in the world and more than three times what the World Health Organization says is ideal. Alonso says studies show that healthy, low-risk women have fewer severe complications in planned home births than if they give birth in a hospital.
ALONSO: Mexico is one of the few countries in the world that has an increasing rate of postpartum mortality, and this probably has to do with the amount of unnecessary interventions that they're getting.
LEVINSON: Last year, more than 900 women died during or after childbirth in Mexico. Adriana Albarran is an obstetrician in Mexico City and worked in a public hospital for years. She says she never questioned the practice until her first child was born by cesarean.
ADRIANA ALBARRAN: (Through interpreter) I changed my approach the moment I became a mother. When your patient is sick, of course you have to apply the protocols. But let's not generalize. We can't treat pregnant women or women in labor like they're sick.
LEVINSON: While first-time mom Jennifer Hernandez and her husband, Angel Najera, embrace midwifery and natural births, they say others are more skeptical.
HERNANDEZ: All the people that hear about this think that we're going to be, like, in a forest...
ANGEL NAJERA: Or a cave.
HERNANDEZ: Or a cave, yes, or in front of the fire and singing.
LEVINSON: Especially hard to convince to go natural was Angel's mom, Maria Estrada.
MARIA ESTRADA: (Speaking Spanish).
LEVINSON: "My first impression was - why would you choose something like this if you can go to a hospital?" she says.
After the class at Luna Maya, Estrada came around. And so is Mexican society, albeit slowly. In the past two years, three midwifery schools have opened up in Mexico, and nursing programs are adding postgraduate midwifery courses. Hernandez says she's glad to have an alternative and not be one of Mexico's alarming statistics.
HERNANDEZ: This thing is mine. It's not an emergency. It's not - it's not a disease. So why go to the hospital?
LEVINSON: And, she says, beaming, this is a much better way.
For NPR News, I'm Jonathan Levinson in Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.