Activity 3 – Birth in Italy – Sarah Wagner

I will be focusing on the Italian cultural effects on birth.

Brigitte Jordan describes authoritative knowledge as persuasive because “it seems natural, reasonable and consensually constructed” (Jordan 1992).  She illustrates the labor room and the complexity of the baby’s delivery and proves the doctor is the person in charge.  Jordan also states more than one thing can take dominance of a situation.  Suzanne K. Ketler, the author of “Preparing for Motherhood: Authoritative Knowledge and the Undercurrents of Shared Experience in Two Childbirth Education Courses in Cagliari, Italy”, recognizes Jordan’s concept that “several knowledge systems exist, some of which, by consensus, come to carry more weight than others” (Ketler 2000, Jordan 1992).  From Ketler’s study in Italy socializing with other pregnant women such as attending a childbirth education course and more specifically with women who have already experienced a pregnancy or two “nudged” the “dominant biomedical knowledge aside” resulting in both socializing and biomedical knowledge having equal impact on the birth experience (Ketler 2000).

However, the pregnancy class availability and the delivery itself can vary greatly from one city to another in Italy.  In some hospitals only the father is allowed (although not encouraged to be) in the delivery room, while in other hospitals any family members are allowed to be present (Scorpesi, Zanobini, and Carossino 1997).  For the hospital with more restrictions, the father may only visit his wife and newborn baby during visiting hours.  If he brings along their other children, they must be at least 12 years old.

The women aren’t given much choice on how to proceed and perform the delivery.  In a European/U.S. study, in Genoa, Italy, the women rarely chose the delivery position (Scorpesi, Zanobini, and Carossino 1997).  The choices for episiotomy or anesthetics is never permitted.  When compared to other famous major cities (Boston, Cologne, and Reim), Genoese mothers spend less time in labor (Scorpesi, Zanobini, and Carossino 1997).  They also decently tolerate the labor pain because they see a delivery as a “medical event” where pain is seen as normal.  It is rarely seen as “unbearable”.  The mother’s expectations are an important component of the “pain perception” (Scorpesi, Zanobini, and Carossino 1997).

Even though the birthing process is relatively quick and the pain is tolerable, it doesn’t completely relate to the women’s “level of satisfaction”.  Tolerance and the emotions from the delivery doesn’t always correlate.  Comparing Genoa and Reim, France, in the Scorpesi et al. study, the French mother typically complains more about her labor pain than the Italian but more frequently shows joyfulness when her baby is born.  The Italian women showed “less positive emotional reactions”; at times they complain on “the need for improvements in hospitals” (Scorpesi, Zanobini, and Carossino 1997).  One must keep in mind, however, some Italian women have little or no control over the delivery process.

Cesarean section births, like the U.S., are relatively common (Bertolini et al. 1992).  From about 1995-2005, the cesarean section rate increased tremendously in some regions of Italy.  They occur more often with an obstetrician rather than a midwife (Morano et al. 2007).  In effort to decrease unneeded cesarean sections and encourage spontaneous vaginal birth, midwifery birth centers are gradually developing across Italy (Morano et al. 2007).


Bertollini, R., DiLallo, D., Spadea, T., & Perucci, C. (1992). Cesarean section rate in Italy by hospital payment mode: an analysis based on birth certificates. American Journal of Public Health, 82(2). Retrieved from

Ketler, S. K. (2000). Preparing for Motherhood: Authoritative Knowledge and the Undercurrents of Shared Experience in Two Childbirth Education Courses in Cagliari, Italy. American Anthropology Quarterly, 14(2). Retrieved from

Morano, S., et al. (2007). Outcomes of the first midwife-led birth centre in Italy: 5 years’ experience. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 276(4). Retrieved from

Scopesi, A., Zanbini, M., & Carossino, P. (2007). Childbirth in different cultures: Psychophyical reactions of women delivering in US, German, French, and Italian hospitals. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 15(1). Retrieved from

One thought on “Activity 3 – Birth in Italy – Sarah Wagner

  1. I think it is very interesting that women in Genoa, Italy do not think labor pain is unbearable and tolerate because they think it is part of the medical event. This is very contrasted here in America because many women insist on having medicinal assistance, such as epidurals or other anesthetics. It is not uncommon for women to explain birth as the most painful experience of their lives. I am interested to see whether the perspective on labor experience from a woman in Genoa, Italy would be negative similar to Americans, or if it would be a lot more positive since they see the pain as a norm.

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