Domenico Perrotta

Disputed childbirth: The midwife between medical and humanizing discourse

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Midwife, medicalization, childbirth, discourse, professions, sociology of health

This article presents some findings of a study on the profession of midwife and the medicalisation of childbirth conducted in Italy by a team of sociologists and midwives; it was based on in-depth interviews with midwives and mothers and direct observation of childbirths in a National Health Service hospital. We will describe "biomedical discourse" and "humanizing discourse": these represent two different ways of defining and treating pregnancy, labour and childbirth. Biomedical discourse is hegemonic in Italy, while the knowledge of a midwife, central in the humanizing discourse, has a subordinate position. Through ethnographic descriptions of childbirths, we will show how medicalising decisions are taken by obstetricians, mothers-to-be and midwives. A physiological birth is often defined as pathological by the actors, not for "scientific" reasons, but for social and interactional ones, such as organisational and legal factors or working routines.

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