medicalisation of pregnancy

Topics: Childbirth, Pregnancy, Obstetrics Pages: 9 (2251 words) Published: January 27, 2015
From the initial pronouncement by the GP that a woman is pregnant to the regular scans and antenatal process pregnant women are expected to participate in, pregnancy has been redefined as a potential risky process requiring medical surveillance. Explain this statement using sociological concepts including medicalization and consider the advantages and disadvantages of this approach to pregnancy.

The medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth has changed from something that was previously the most natural process into an extremely risky process, so why is this and what does the term medicalization actually mean when applied to the pregnancy process? This following assignment will discuss the definition of medicalization, medical social control and how it applies to the risk of pregnancy and childbirth. It will explore the history of pregnancy procedures and discuss the current processes of pregnancy from the initial pronouncement to the expectations of the pregnant woman throughout the pregnancy term. The assignment will also discuss the sociological concepts and theories, including the advantages and disadvantages of the medicalization of pregnancy.

There are many definitions of medicalization but according to Conrad (1992) “medicalization describes a process by which nonmedical problems become defined and treated as medical problems, usually in terms of illnesses or disorders” – pregnancy and childbirth is a prime example of this definition. Along with medicalization came medical social control and Conrad (1979) states there are four main types of medical social control, these are: medical ideology, medical collaboration, medical technology and medical surveillance. Whilst the risks of pregnancy and childbirth may fall under all four of these types of social control, the main control would be medical surveillance along with medical technology.(Conrad: 1992)

The most important change within pregnancy and childbirth is the transition from the private sphere (giving birth at home) to the public sphere of the hospital. (Symonds & Hunt: 1996) Initially, midwives were un-qualified women whose experience was based purely on their own childbirth and what they had learned from other women. Perceptions of midwives varied from being old, drunken, unclean women to conscientious, clean kept and caring women. (Kent: 2000) Depending on wealth, women in the nineteenth century would encounter different types of midwives. For those that were poor, lay midwives or handywomen would be present at the birth however, often these classes of women would receive their treatment in hospitals where there was no charge for treatment but meant obstetricians were free to carry out treatments or operations enabling them to develop their own skills and knowledge (Kent: 2000) Middle class women would receive more expensive medical care (Kent: 2000)

According to Leap and Hunter (1993) during the late nineteenth century a group of women set up a campaign to enable the training and practice of midwives which led to the 1902 Midwives Act. Prior to the introduction of this Act, eight attempts to upgrade the role of midwife had failed. The introduction of the act meant that it was illegal for any untrained person to attend a birth other than if instructed by a doctor and it was a statutory responsibility for a midwife to attend. (Kent: 2000) Hospital births began to increase prior to the Second World War and the introduction of the National Health Service in 1946 saw a massive increase in maternity beds which was free to all. (Kent: 2000) Feminist’s theory of the medicalization of childbirth defined the process as an’ expression of patriarchal power’ and feminists such as Donnison and Oakley would argue that this meant that women were now subjected to male power. Oakley in particular sees the move of childbirth into a male area as robbing women of autonomy and losing control of their own bodies (Symonds & Hunt: 1996)...

Bibliography: Babycentre, LLc ( 2013) Giving birth in hospital, available [online] at : (accessed: 13/2/2013)
Cahill, H (2000) Male appropriation and medicalization of childbirth: an historical analysis
Conrad, P (1992) Medicalization and social control, Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 18, pp.209-232
Gelis, J (1991) History of childbirth, Polity Press: Cambridge
Hunt, S (2005) The life course: a sociological introduction, Palgrave Macmillan: Hampshire
Hunt, S & Symonds, A (1995) The social meaning of midwifery, Macmillan Press Ltd: London
Kent, J (2000) Social perspectives on pregnancy and childbirth for midwives, nurses and the caring professions, Open University Press: Berkshire
Kirkham, M (ed) (2004) Informed choice in maternity, Palgrave Macmillan: Hampshire
National Childbirth Trust (2012) NCT: the UK’s largest charity for patients, available [online] at (accessed: 16/2/2013)
National Childbirth Trust (2008) NCT Briefing: Home Birth,
Oakley, A (1992) Social support and motherhood: the natural history of a research project, Blackwell Publishers: Oxford
Oakley, A (1993) Essays on women, medicine and health, Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh
Symonds, A & Hunt, S (1996) The midwife and society: perspectives, policies and practice, Macmillan Press Ltd: London.
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