W4: Childbirth and the Bigger Picture

This week we focused on particularly childbirth as both a cultural and medical practice.  It goes hand in hand with the approach we’ve taken to the class, which includes us looking at how different cultures view medicine.  Clearly, childbirth isn’t something that is considered a medical procedure cross-culturally, so it’s interesting when bringing up the topic academically because there’s a huge array of complications particularly when western medicine tries to impose its will on smaller cultures, such as the Inuit and Hmong.  To them childbirth is a part of normal life, and this stems from their outlook on the practice.

In order to understand certain consequences of cultural imposition, one must understand the culture’s practice of childbirth in this case.  The Inuit believe that each newborn child is a product of reincarnation and is named after the deceased relative to which they are believed to be the reincarnation of.  It is believed that the soul is passed down to the child.  These people are located in the northern Canadian region, so Canada is the big imposer in this situation.  As a result of this view, children are given much more freedom in the Inuit culture than that of non-Inuits.  One may say that they are over-permissive, but discipline is used throughout the community.  Even when the Inuits switched primarily to western medicine they don’t change much about their way of life, particularly in breastfeeding.  The mother will breastfeed until the child is about 3 years old.  After bio medicine is implemented, this doesn’t really change much.  However, bottle feeding does begin to rise in popularity.

Traditional Hmong will simply give birth in homes, without the help of bio medicine.  A consequence of this would be that the mortality rate of infants was relatively high, and it was, at about 50%.  In order to combat this, their belief is that the infant has 3 days to make it to their initiation ceremony into the human race.  Until then, they are not considered human beings so to help console the mother should the baby die.  Bio medicine changes that.  The mortality rates of everyone begins to go down as we see the Hmong using more and more western medicine.

Being apart of the western medical system, it’s easy to say ours is the best.  Our society is pretty secular right now, and that just isn’t the case of these other tribes who follow more traditional values.  When we begin to medicalize childbirth we do get a healthier mortality rate and healthier babies (I think) but we do over time lose that cultural significance behind childbirth.

Along with that, medicalizing childbirth can also have bad effects.  One of these effects is quite simple:  you’re putting the decision for your baby in the hands of a doctor.  According to my outside article, (which appears to be very against medicalizing childbirth) goes on to say that in the delivery room once the baby is delivered, they will administer many drugs without the mother’s permission (The Medicalization of Childbirth, 2012).  Granted, a birth plan can very easily alter this, one thing does stick out and it is who is calling the shots?  In childbirth, that’s the question isn’t it?  In bio medicine the doctor calls the shots (unless you supersize your right to) in most cases and in traditional childbirth the mother will call the shots.  Which one is better?  Well, like every other answer that I’ll give for this course, it depends.


Stellpflug, Craig. “The Medicalization of Childbirth.” Natural Nes. June 22, 2012. Accessed      July 29, 2016. http://www.naturalnews.com/036252_childbirth_medicalization_delivery_rooms.html.

2 thoughts on “W4: Childbirth and the Bigger Picture

  1. I really like your approach to this weeks lecture. Like you said, childbirth is look at and practiced very different depending on where one lives and also their culture practiced. Until this unit, I had no idea that birthing in other places around the world and other cultures were so different than the ways of hospitals in America. I just assumed that maybe other places did not have the doctors or technology or hospitals that we have but in reality, they would rather have their own traditional ways. It is a more intimate and spiritual event to have a normal birth than medicalized and many people prefer that. When modern medicine comes into play, it messes with rituals and beliefs of others. I enjoyed reading the questions you threw in at the end of your blog post. It really gets us thinking about how much medicine had taken over and how maybe some of our privacy and rights have been played around with. Just like most controversy with illnesses, medicalized birthing seems more of a strict patient relationship that comes with money and paperwork, than a natural significant, important event. All of those theories would be great to look at and question.

  2. Hi Antonio,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. We certainly do, as Americans, see western medicine as the best kind. In our trust of western medicine, we seem to forget that there are numerous cultures throughout the world that have been using different types of healing for thousands of years. This is very clear in the ways we see childbirth. In western medicine, we leave most of the decision-making to doctors and other health professionals. In other cultures, however, such as the Inuit and Hmong, the decision-making process is entirely one’s own.

    In looking at childbirth in these other cultures we see that the ability to make these decisions is essential to the future of the newborn’s cultural life. With the Hmong and the Inuit, decisions that are made and methods that are used at birth are vital to the future of the newborn child. Birth is the initiation of a person into their culture. In western medicine, that cultural aspect seems to disappear, completely changing the timeline of one’s cultural life.

    Ultimately, the issue in medicalized birth is that it places the role of decision-maker into the hands of someone who does not necessarily understand the cultural ways of the patient. Medicalization of something as significant as birth can drastically alter the cultural practices of a community.

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