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History Of Childbirth

Until the twentieth century, childbirth was the province of women. A woman giving birth was attended by her female relatives and perhaps a woman in the community known for her midwifing skills. As the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century took place, concerned physicians noticed that childbirth was sometimes a dangerous, often fatal, process. Infections, injury to the baby and mother, and death occurred when unskilled midwives attempted to manage complications. Gradually, childbirth changed from an entirely female-centered activity to a medical process overseen by predominately male physicians. By the early twentieth century, childbirth moved from the home to the hospital. By the mid- twentieth century, childbirth had become a completely medical process, attended by physicians and managed by medical equipment and procedures, such as fetal monitors, anesthesia, and surgical interventions.

Later in the twentieth century, some women became dissatisfied with this medical approach to birth. Many felt that the medical establishment had taken control of a natural biological process. Women wanted more control over labor and birth and new ways of giving birth that sought to reduce or eliminate the medical interventions became popular. With the increasing concern about the effect of anesthesia on the fetus, many women refused artificial means of controlling pain, and instead relied on breathing and relaxation techniques. Fathers, once banished from labor and delivery rooms, were now welcomed as partners in the birth process.

Today, women have many options for labor and birth. Some women deliver in a hospital with doctors and nurses close by to supervise the birth process. Others choose a nurse-midwife, a person who has been trained to deliver babies but who is not a doctor. Still others choose home birth, attended either by a doctor or midwife, or sometimes both. Whatever option a woman chooses, it is important to get good medical care throughout pregnancy. Periodic prenatal checkups are one of the best ways to avoid birth complications.

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