W4: Getting Back to Natural Birth

Birthing practices for Inuit, Hmong, and mainstream Americans have changed greatly over time, with the Inuit and Hmong practices being changed to more closely resemble the birthing practices of Americans.  As stated in Lecture 1, childbirth along with many other things such as death or taking herbs to better your health, were seen as parts of “regular life” in American society.  It was not that long ago, in the 20th century, where these life events were taken out of everyday life and turned into medicalized experiences.  Hospitals started to become more prevalent during this time in America, and doctors were now the ones who saw to the women giving birth.  This was because, according to this week’s lecture material, these men were the ones with the medical knowledge and the midwives were not, making the doctors the ones who were allowed to help during birth.

In the Inuit community, women in the past were to give birth in a hut that was not occupied by the family; if they were to give birth in a family hut, that hut had to be abandoned (Lecture 2).  During the birthing process, an older woman who was experienced in the process of childbirth would assist the mother while also observing the newborn child to see if anything about their future or character would be revealed (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006).  This new child would sleep with his or her parents, was constantly in contact with his or her mother, and was breastfed until the mother became pregnant again (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006).

However, when nurses from the United Kingdom came into contact with Inuit communities, they required the women to be flown south so that they could give birth in hospitals (Lecture 2).  These women were flown away from their country and their families three to four weeks before they were due to give birth, and were not flown back home until after their baby was born (Lecture 2).  This practice is not strongly supported by the Inuit: “It is interesting to note that while many Inuit babies today are born in hospitals or nursing stations, there is strong support among Inuit women for the return of traditional midwifery practices to assist in birthing” (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006).

In the Hmong community, birthing traditionally was to take place in the parents’ bedroom with assistance of an older woman with child birthing experience and the father of the child (Birth in Hmong Culture, 2011).  After the child is born, due to the very strong lifelong connection to the placenta, it is buried in the home of the child.  For males, the placenta is buried “under the main post of the house”; for females the placenta is buried “under the parents’ bed” (Birth in Hmong Culture, 2011).  This practice is not highly supported by Western medicine or doctors, so in hospital births it is sometimes hard to get the placenta from the doctors (Fadiman, 1997).

Birthing, and other health related events, use a combination of both Western medicine and traditional medicine (Bengiamin et al. 2011).  This is due to the Hmong not trusting the Western practices fully, and most times not having a satisfactory experience when interacting with Western medicine (Bengiamin et al. 2011).


Bengiamin, Chang, and John A. Capitman.  “Understanding Traditional Hmong Health and Prenatal Care Beliefs, Practices, Utilization and Needs.” (2011): 1-30. Accessed July 16, 2016, https://www.fresnostate.edu/chhs/cvhpi/documents/hmong-report.pdf.

“Birth in Hmong culture.” (2011).  Accessed July 16, 2016, http://sc2218.wikifoundry.com/page/Birth+in+Hmong+culture.

5 thoughts on “W4: Getting Back to Natural Birth

  1. Hi Lucy,
    I really liked your post I thought your explanations were spot on of both Hmong and Inutit. Your first comment when you said the “birthing practices of Hmong and Inuit being changed to more closely resemble… Americans” I got to thinking of the old saying “if it is not broke do not fix it.” But were the Inuit and Hmongs ways of childbirth broken? Their societies although may not have been expanding as quickly as America, they were not going extinct and dying off before westerners decided to intervene. Like the story about the Inuits raw seafood diet preventing scurvy but then westerners came along and said no no cook the meat and the Inuits started getting sick. People like to assume there is only one right way to do things, and typically that is the more advanced way- go forwards not backwards. Therefore, after the “world” advanced to a more medicalized form of childbirth the Inuits no longer were doing it correctly and therefore had to be changed. And this was done with little concern with their religious beliefs and practices. In the end who is to say that the birthing practices should be dictated like they are with the Inuits, I think the women should decide if they fly south or not.
    One thing about America is that American women do still have the option to deliver at home with Midwifes. Overall great post- Thank you.

  2. Hi Lucy!
    Reading your post made me think about a few things. As I was reading about the Inuit birth and how some were flown south to hospitals and others were not; I wonder if there was any sort of grand benefit to that. Was there a study that showed percentages of babies born in the hospital vs in a hut and their survival rate, or how well they ended up in life? I feel like if it was that great of a practice, we would have read or heard more information about it. Another thing that is surprising to me is that placenta and how the Hmong think of it. We think of it mostly as a medical part of the birth and I have even heard of health benefits of it and how some people will eat it. Burring it for them is a very spiritual practice. To us it may sound weird but another spiritual practice that is normalized here, such as baptism, would sound odd to them too. As with anything, a combination of may different practices is often used and can be utilized to perform a safe and healthy birth while not compromising the culture of the family.
    Great post!

  3. Lucy,

    I was also intrigued by Lecture 1st discussion of how removed everyday people are from death and birth. I wonder what implications being removed from these aspects of life have on us. Are we more scared of death? Are we less scared?
    Your ending statement that the Hmong don’t trust the Western practices intrigued me because I have kept wondering about how we could help to make western medicine more available to other nations without completely destroying their own culture. I also wish Western medicine was more inclusive when it came to cultures. The blending of both traditional medicine and Western medicine which you talked about was very interesting to me.
    I read an interesting article that talked about the prevalence of traditional medicine in modern times still being relatively high, almost used by 80% of the Africa and Asia population (Shetty, 2010). The article goes on to point out how much money is made off of the US’s medicalized drug industry, along with problems related to modern medicine like drug resistance. The most interesting part of the article was that it pointed to specific drugs and the traditional medicine they were based off of. For example, the drug Artemisinin (an anti-malarial drug) was derived from a traditional Chinese herb (Qinghao) which was original used to treat fever and chills.
    This article made it seem as though traditional and modern medicine were already fused, but that modern medicine does have some disadvantages (just as traditional does). Therefore, I wonder if it’s not just a fusion that we need, but rather a revival of traditional medicine and public understanding that traditional remedies are just as respectable as modern medicine. Each having their own separate benefits.

    1. Shetty, Priya. “Integrating Modern and Traditional Medicine: Facts and Figures.” SciDev.Net. June 30, 2010. http://www.scidev.net/global/indigenous/feature/integrating-modern-and-traditional-medicine-facts-and-figures.html.

  4. Hi Lucy!

    I feel as if doctors have a bad habit of fixing things that aren’t broken. In today’s world, medicine is a huge part of our culture. Sadly, I rarely ever hear about people giving natural births anymore. Reading your post made me think about a story my mom told me. She said that when I was born she became extremely sick from an epidural that was administered to her. As a result of that, my grandmother and father had to complete care of me the first 2 months I was born. The epidural caused her to have excruciating headaches and severe back pain. It was later discovered that spinal fluid was leaking from the incision and as soon as it was fixed, her health was restored! Now fast-forwarding 7 years… my mother gives birth to my brother. This time she had a natural birth. Just keep in mind that my brother was 9lbs 1oz. when he was born. Despite how big he was; she expressed that having the natural birth was way easier and less stressful (with minimal after pain) than the medicated birth. The reason why I say that doctors often fix things that aren’t broken is because my mother also stated that she was basically coerced into a medicated birth. She never wanted a medicated birth in the first place! Her first experience would have probably turned out much better if she were able to give a natural birth.

  5. Hello Lucy. Really enjoyed reading your entry. In the first paragraph, you state that the Inuit and Hmong practices being to change to resemble the practices of Americans. This is somewhat true, but the two birthing practices did not change because they wanted to but instead because they had to, due to many other factors. Everything you said about the Inuit birthing process was correct, but I thought that you missed the most important part: what happened after this practice was put into place and how the government became involved. The part about the Hmong birth that caught my attention the most was what these people did with the placenta and I loved how you included it. What they do with the placenta and how they cherish it really what makes their birthing process stand out the most to me. I do not think that it is right to for Western doctors to deny the placenta to mothers because I feel like it is their property and the Hmong people really cherish it. The Hmong do not trust the Western practices fully because of their way of life. It sometimes amazes me that some people do not believe in Western values.

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