W4: Ramifications of “medicalized” childbirth

In this weeks materials we were introduced to different types of childbirths. Although most people today probably think of childbirth as something that is performed in a hospital and by a doctor, those practices are still relatively new. Up until the introduction of the Flexner Report of 1910 childcare and even general healthcare was something that was performed at home (Lecture 4.1). After 1910, as a result of the report, childbirth transitioned from a traditional and natural process to a highly medicalized one performed in hospitals.

In our society medicalized childbirth has been widely accepted, but that is not the case for everywhere else. One group in particular that was not so accepting of the change was the Inuit. The Inuit were being forced by the Canadian government to create a settlement, a far cry from their nomadic origins. The Canadian government had good intentions, as they believed that it would be beneficial to them because they would be able to supply them with better access to medicine and supplies. Part of this change was that the government wanted the Inuit to fly south to give birth in hospitals rather than their traditional births that they were accustomed too. In Inuit society birthing was a very traditional process and certain rituals were standard. Mothers were isolated from their babies after giving birth, ivory whales were placed into their mouths, and children were given names of recently deceased relatives because they believed it would reincarnate the decedents characteristics in to the newborn baby (The Inuit Way).

Problems started to arise with the Inuit because of the medicalization of childbirth. Cultural traditions were being neglected and people were upset. Mothers were separated from their children for weeks at a time, unable to nurse them if they were leaving behind infants. It was also expensive; the flights alone were $10,000, not including the actual medical care. Lastly it was creating stress and uneasiness for the whole community, not just for the mother (Lecture 4.2). The communities decided something needed to be done and made a push to recapture their traditional births. After doing so studies were performed and found that birthing traditionally in the north was no less safe then being forced to fly to the hospitals in the south (Lecture 4.2).

Even in the US were medicalization of childbirth is standard some researchers are starting to question whether this is a good thing and whether or not medical intervention is truly necessary and at what cost. Although the article offered no statistical conclusion it did conclude that one of the most important factors is the women’s feeling. Women prioritize the health of their baby and themselves, so having access to a guaranteed low mortality rate is something that comforts them and makes them more likely to seek out medicalized births. They also found some aspects of the developed, medicalized culture that were unnecessary, like a C-section rate of approximately one third (Johanson).

In conclusion there are obviously many different cultures around the world and each one has different traditions regarding childbirth. And although biomedicine has made some great accomplishments in helping identify and treat complications associated with childbirth, I believe that women should choose the way they are most comfortable with.


Johanson, Richard, Mary Newburn, and Alison Macfarlane. “Has the Medicalisation of Childbirth Gone Too Far?” BMJ : British Medical Journal. April 13, 2002. Accessed July 29, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1122835/.

One thought on “W4: Ramifications of “medicalized” childbirth

  1. Hi Michael,

    I’m glad you bring up the importance of culture in childbirth. For many communities, like the Inuit, the birth of a child is very significant to the way people live their lives. Like the Inuit, Hmong people also view childbirth as a highly cultural and significant event. There are certain unique practices within each community that are essential the life and spirit of the newborn child. When Inuit or Hmong mothers are made to birth their child in a non-traditional, medicalized way, it takes away from the cultural importance of childbirth.

    I also like your statement about women prioritizing the safety and health of their child. If medicalized birth is made to look like the safest way to have a child, it is probably pretty likely that more mothers will employ these medicalized methods, especially in the United States. This also brings up the issue of being forced into medicalized birth. As the study you cite shows, there isn’t any clear evidence that “regular life” birth is any less safe than medicalized birth. Why then, are so many women being forced into medicalized birth? Shouldn’t the choice be entirely the mother’s? When we take culture into account in the debate between medicalized versus “regular life” birth, it should be realized that birth plays a fundamental role in a person’s culture and is influential in the rest of their lives and the lives of the community as a whole.

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