Natural childbirth in twentieth century England : a history of alternative approaches to birth from the 1940s to the 1990s.
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It is well-established that a medical model of childbirth shaped maternity policy during the second half of the twentieth century. However, alongside this narrative of medicalised childbirth, an idea emerged that was to challenge medical hegemony in maternity care provision. In 1933 British doctor Grantly Dick-Read published his first book, Natural Childbirth, detailing his theories on pain during childbirth and its remedy. Natural childbirth was a controversial idea and was not well-received by the medical profession. Nevertheless, some women were enthusiastic about the nonmedical approach suggested by Dick-Read and by the 1950s natural childbirth was recognised as a distinct method of coping with the rigours of labour and birth. The term later became synonymous with a range of alternative ideas about the management of childbirth. Such ideas were disseminated through literature advising women about childbirth, and through antenatal education, which aimed to inform, enlighten and empower childbearing women. Childbirth alternatives were consistently regarded with scepticism and the medical establishment remained critical of them. Midwifery was surprisingly ambivalent, given that it shared some of its core values with the principles of natural childbirth. Nevertheless, a vocal minority continued to enthuse about childbirth alternatives, and a handful of consumer organisations committed to promoting them emerged. By the 1970s and 1980s, a backlash against medicalised childbirth in contemporary Britain provided a platform for such organisations to push their agenda even further. Natural childbirth discourse provided the means to express dissatisfaction with the medical system of childbirth; it also helped to give form to disillusionment with contemporary maternity services by shaping expectations. By the late 1980s, policy makers attempted to address the groundswell of discontent amongst childbearing women by alluding to childbirth alternatives and offering a choice of services. Still, as their shared history suggests, the relationship between the medical and natural models of childbirth remained complex and littered with paradoxes.
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