W4: Comparing & Contrasting Childbirth

Along with eating and dying and many other life routines in America, “birth in the United States has become increasingly medicalized” (Murphy, 2010). Most Americans have come to only trust and know childbirth in the hospital setting and view childbirth as something that needs to be assisted by doctors. However, this was not always the case. Midwives were common in the early 1900s, but eventually became looked down upon because they were not properly licensed. Instead of valuing midwives in modern days, “medicalization in the United States led to the suppression of “alternative” medical ideas rather than to the co-existence of different ideas, as in many other countries” (“Medicalization…”, 2016).

In contrast, the Inuit childbirth experience is vastly different. Inuit birthing traditions differ from American ones in that the woman is in charge of her own birth and does the majority of the work on her own. There are many ritual practices that take place after the birth as well that hold great significance. However, the western world has overtaken many of these traditions and beliefs by forcing the Inuit into medicalized childbirth. Instead of birthing their children in the north, they are being forced to evacuate to southern hospitals to have their babies. This causes many problems and inconveniences to the Inuit women and their families. However, because of women speaking out and fighting medicalized births, Inuits have since reclaimed their right to birth their children in the north. Studies have even shown that having children in the north is just as safe as having them in the south (“Inuit Birth….”, 2016). While not quite the same, Hmong and Inuit beliefs about childbirth are similar in that they are in no way medicalized. Processes and rituals before, during, and after the birth are unique to that culture and do not rely on western medication in any way to assist them. They view childbirth as a regular occurrence in a woman’s life and thus, do not have a plethora of outside help to assist in the birthing process. While Americans see childbirth as an event that needs assistance from a doctor in a hospital, Inuit and Hmong peoples incorporate the event into their culture.

Comparing these very different cultures prompts the questions, who is right? Which group has the safest childbirth practices? Should one tactic be used more than another? As users of western medical practices, Americans believe they are right and have the safest and most efficient methods. However, comparing these three groups may prove just otherwise.


Gabriel, Cynthia. “Inuit Birth: Reclaiming Birth Authority.” Presentation for the course ANP 370: Culture, Health, and Illness, 2016.

Gabriel, Cynthia. “Medicalization of Life Events in the United States: How did we get here?” Presentation for the course ANP 370: Culture, Health, and Illness, 2016.

Murphy, Margaret Ann. “Medicalization of Birth: The Social Construct of Cesarean Section. A Qualitative Analysis” (PhD diss., The University of Michigan, 2010).

One thought on “W4: Comparing & Contrasting Childbirth

  1. Great post Grace! I think that it does depend on what you believe in and that is going to determine what birthing practice is the “right” one. For the Inuit and Hmong the birth of a child is a lot more spiritual than in the United States. In America, we would not think twice when a woman goes into labor to take her immediately to a hospital with doctors to take care of her and her baby. I thought it was really interesting to look at the two cultures because they are so different than ours. When it comes to giving birth I really do not think there is a right or a wrong way. As long as both mom and baby are given the best chances possible and what they believe in is conserved I think that it is okay to have multiple ways and one should not be forced upon a certain country or culture. Until I found out that the Inuit having birth at home was just as safe as them having them in the south, I thought that the government was trying to do the right thing to help the moms and newborns. However the way they approached the situation was not the best. I think that it is a really hard line to draw for the government because they want to decrease the infant mortality rates but they also cannot make a whole culture go against their traditional birthing rituals.

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