The Evolution of Childbirth from a Social, Midwife-Supported Event to a Modern Medicalized Process


William F. McCool, PhD, CNM, FACNM, FAAN

Midwifery Graduate Program

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA, USA


Biologically, childbirth has evolved as a natural process involving support for laboring women by members of their communities, mostly women and midwives.  Despite unique differences in the views of childbirth within the 8,000 cultures that currently exist in the world, one common theme has been the social nature of this event.   However, historical developments in colonialism and Western medicine over recent centuries have altered the modern view of childbirth to be an event requiring technological scrutiny and intervention, often replacing the midwife’s role with that of a physician’s.

This presentation will explore the historical evolution of childbirth from the start of humankind to the 21st century, and explain the increasing view of childbirth not as a natural, social event, but instead as one requiring medical intervention.  The presentation will then offer an overview of historically common cultural approaches to childbirth that can conflict with the medicalization of this human event.