W4: Is “Medicalized” Childbirth Really Better?

The choice between “regular life” child birth and the more modern medicalized experience is a choice that women in many cultures have to make. For the Inuit people, who live in the northern most points in Canada, “regular life” childbirth was the most common way of the past. Today most Inuit women are flown south to give birth in hospitals. Before this practice began, Inuit women gave birth in a hut separate from the one in which they lived in. There were many different traditions that accompanied the birth of a child in the Inuit community. Shamans performed rituals and naming ceremonies took place in the first few days of the child’s life. As nurses from the United Kingdom began to work at clinics in Northern Canada they introduced the Inuit women to medicalized birth. At first it began with a few women who were flown south because they were sick or there were other complications. The serious cases were almost always evacuated to southern hospitals. As time progressed, more and more Inuit women began to evacuate the north to give birth to their child elsewhere. There are many problems that arise when going south to have a child. Some of them include the cost of the trip and hospital stay, being away from home and family members for an extended period of time, as well as not being familiar with the culture in the south. In an attempt to reclaim childbirth, some communities opened birthing centers with the help of midwives so that more Inuit women could give birth safely in the north. This is an example of the Inuit people wanting to retain cultural traditions that are slipping away from their communities.

In the United States, mainstream Americans primarily experience “medicalized” childbirth. The shift from childbirth in the home to childbirth in hospitals started around the beginning of the 20th century. It has become common practice to give birth in a hospital for many reasons. The doctors who give birth are trained professionals, the health of both mother and child can be monitored, and there is a lower risk of complications. However, a surprising number of maternal deaths are still occurring in the United States. According to an article by Kelly Wallace from CNN, the U.S. is one of only eight countries in the world where the maternal mortality rate is rising. The reason for this can be linked to the health of the mother before birth. Obesity can cause complications during childbirth, which is a major problem in the United States. So while “medicalized” childbirth reduces the risk for complications during a normal birth, if there are preexisting conditions complications can still occur.

Kelly Wallace, “Why is the maternal mortality rate going up in the United States?” CNN, December 11, 2015, accessed July 29, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/01/health/maternal-mortality-rate-u-s-increasing-why/

5 thoughts on “W4: Is “Medicalized” Childbirth Really Better?

  1. You have summarized the issue between of forced medicalization in groups who aren’t medicalized very well. I would also add that there are similar parallels that can be drawn from the Hmong group similar to the woes the intuit people had. Nevertheless, I am interested in how you titled your essay, “is “medicalized” childbirth really better”. The narrative we are presented with is that medicalization is predominantly harmful to many populations who suffer on its imposition. However, medicalization in of itself, I argue is not bad. As you pointed out, medicalization has had many positive benefits that can be clearly demonstrated such as better treatment and lower mortality rates for infants. The problem I argue isn’t medicalization in of itself. It is the insensitive biases that are brought with the zealots of medicalization. In the majority of cases, we have seen so far where medicalization causes issues, it is the lack of cultural sensitivity that is actually doing the harm, not the science itself. Furthermore, it is the narrow-minded foresight that many proponents of medicalization have that bears problems. Proponents often completely disregard the benefits that can be brought from other thoughts and take their way of thinking as the sole way of doing medicine. This state of mind is what causes issues, not medicalization in of itself. If medical workers can find a way to use science and medicalization while taking account the cultural traditions for the Inuit for example everything would run much smoother, and I believe there wouldn’t be harm in medicalization in that case.

  2. John,

    Your post first intrigued me because of the title. I strongly agree with you that a choice between “regular” child birth and “medicalized” childbirth causes much frustration among the Inuit and Hmong people. However, I would contribute that completely demonizing medicalized childbirth is harmful too, since many lives have been saved due to advances made in the medicalized world. I would challenge your title that neither traditional or medicalized is better, rather a fusion of the two would help utilize the positive aspects of both.
    I really liked that you brought up how a mother’s health contributes to birthing complications. The article you cited gave an interesting perspective that other factors contribute to how healthy the child will be. I believe that stress could be a huge factor on the mother’s health, especially after we learned how racism effected birth weights of Arab-looking women. The process of taking the mothers from her home and support group could induce a lot of stress, which can be very hard on baby.
    Stress can cause low birth weight, prolonged labor, and preterm delivery (Lobel, 1994). It’s quite amazing just how much stress can impact the development and birthing outcome of a baby. Many of the Inuit women that were flown south had to experience everything alone in a completely new setting. I really hope that we can use this knowledge to understand the complexity of childbirth across cultures, and increase birth safety across the globe without unnecessarily stressing the mother and child.

    1. Lobel, Marci. “Conceptualizations, Measurement, and Effects of Prenatal Maternal Stress on Birth Outcomes.” J Behav Med Journal of Behavioral Medicine 17, no. 3 (1994): 225-72. doi:10.1007/bf01857952.

  3. John,

    I think it is crazy that the mortality rate in the United States is raising. You would think that with all of the medicalization that has been paired to birthing that this would not be the case. I actually learned in another class why this is true. There are two reasons why our mortality rate continues to rise. Other countries do two things differently. Number one, they use midwives and home delivery for low-risk mothers. Number two, they have easy access to hospitals and the right technology for high-risk mothers. I believe if the United States implemented these ideas that are rising mortality rate for mothers would decrease. We should focus more on high risk mothers in the hospital and allow low risk mothers so be comfortable in their own home while delivering by using more midwives. This will take easier access to hospitals and trained midwives who are hired by hospitals to work effectively. I believe midwives are looked down upon in the United States and if we focused n familiarizing people with the practice of midwifery it would be very beneficial to our health system. Overall, your blog post was very insightful and I really enjoyed reading it!


  4. John,
    Your post very clearly summed up this weeks reading, and the main discussion point about cultural differences in birthing rituals. Although hospitals do offer more benefits than at home births, I do not agree with the stigma surrounding natural childbirth. The trained professionals in Western hospitals mirror the experienced midwives in rural communities in which they both know what they’re doing, and often can catch any signs of complications. The main difference that I see is the use of medicine such as anesthesia that is used during labor (Van Hollen). Just as Van Hollen’s reading had said, some cultures do not take anesthesia because it is believed that the pain is good fortune for a good birth. On page 51, it is mentioned that the use of birthing positions and breathing techniques can substantially alleviate the labor pains, and I am one that believes that if there is a way to try something without medications, and it doesn’t put others (in this case the baby) or myself under such stressful, painful circumstances, then I am willing to try it. Additionally, you had mentioned that a mother’s health before pregnancy effects the maternal mortality rate. I also decided to research this, and found an article from 2012 by William Callaghan, M.D. that suggested the recent increase in cardiovascular and blood vessel conditions in the U.S. has now put it as the leading cause of maternal mortality rates. He also proposes that the rise in cardiovascular diseases is because of women are waiting until later in their reproductive lifetime to conceive, and the increase in numbers of obesity (as you had mentioned), hypertension and diabetes in the U.S. is the cause of the cardiovascular illnesses. Ultimately, the rise in maternity deaths is due to an increase in preexisting medical conditions, rather than birthing complications.

    Callaghan, William M. “Overview of maternal mortality in the United States.” In Seminars in perinatology, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 2-6. WB Saunders, 2012.

  5. Hello John,
    It seems that your post was very focused on the practices people had before modern medicine and how those are being neglect now in hospital settings. Well first I think the doctors are helping protect the child from a ritual that could potentially be harmful if performed. For example placing an object in a newborn infants mouth could cause them to choke or suffocate. Now I know this isn’t what a mother would want to happen to her newborn child but it is very possible. Also with all the waivers patients have to sign these days they can refuse certain treatment if it is against their religion.
    At the end of your post you also touched on the fact that the US is one of the leading countries that has increasing labor mortality rates. And as you mentioned we are unhealthy as a whole nation so being in the hospital where expert care is provided is the safest thing for a fetus and laboring mother. Also we don’t have the greatest system when it comes to prenatal education and care so when a mother that goes into labor without any prior care and realizes that her baby is breeched it’s the best idea to be around a team of medical staff that can perform a C-section and save both the lives of the mother and fetus.

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