The social model vs the biomedical model

Who are we to believe that labor must be managed as if it’s something that cannot be trusted? Who are we to make the laboring mother think that her body doesn’t naturally know what to do? There are caregivers who respect the natural course of labor and recognize the possible dangers of iatrogenesis (iatrogenesis: an illness brought on or caused by the actions/procedures of the caregiver), and there are others who are trained to see labor and birth as a medical condition that requires intervention.

In the book Evidence and Skills for Normal Labour and Birth: A Guide for Midwives by Dennis Walsh, there are two models, two approaches towards labor and birth that are perfectly explained. These models help give an understanding to what a pregnant mother and her circle of care (the people she’s chosen to support her) should seek out when looking for a caregiver.

The two models of maternity care are the physiological (social) model and the medical (biomedical) model. Out of the ten differences between the two models outlined in the book, I have taken my top 3 to briefly discuss below.

  1. The social model respects and empowers. By simply reading the previous statement to myself I think of a caregiver who honors my growing baby and my body (the temple growing and nurturing a human being). It makes me feel confident that my caregiver will provide me with the knowledge I need to understand benefits, risks, and alternatives before the onset of labor. If not before, I’ll have the confidence to know that my caregiver will provide me the information when necessary. This alone is enough to give me the positive outlook I need to begin traveling my pregnancy journey with a healthy state of mind.
    The biomedical model controls and manages. With this approach, a caregiver is on track to taking control of an event that is completely out of his/her hands since the beginning. A medical professional with the training to observe with the intention to find an illness to treat, it makes sense to consider labor and birth as an event to manage from beginning to end (not stating that it is in every case wrong or right).
  2. The social model anticipates normality because it understands labor and birth as a natural event that women have undergone for centuries. Understanding the expansion of our population is understanding that every women has the potential to undergo a normal, safe, and healthy labor and birth. Understanding that babies are and can be born without any intervention is the beginning of letting it happen normally, organically, naturally.
    The biomedical model anticipates pathology because that is what it knows. It knows illness, it knows disease for which it needs a diagnosis and/or treatment. The baby hasn’t moved? The mother hasn’t dilated? What intervention can be performed to ensure things progress? Something is going wrong so it must be fixed.
  3. The social model celebrates differences because it knows that one way of laboring does not fit every mother or circle of care. The squatting position might have engaged the baby for one mother while the cat stretch might have done the same for another. It is important to recognize the differences in mothers and their support team, and celebrate them in every way. Celebrating these differences may be the extra push the mother needs to come full circle with her own acceptance of the course her labor took.
    The biomedical model homogenizes because it’s trained one way and that one way should fit all. It creates a uniform for all to wear, for all to labor in. For example, the hospital gown should be comfortable for all, and there should be no children involved in the circle of care while the mother is laboring. However understandable the reasoning to the aforementioned, it is not fair to hold it as a standard for all.

Ultimately, the only person who is capable of feeling the discomforts of labor and knowing exactly what they need is the mother undergoing the event, so why not let nature happen and only intervene if and when necessary instead of planning to control since the beginning?

Cheers to respect, love and positivity through information!


If you have any questions, comments, or corrections on anything I wrote above, please feel free to comment below or contact me via email. 


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