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Last updated:

April 8, 2022


6 months


This course includes:

6 months

Badge on Completion

Certificate of completion

6 months


Health means different things to different people, and this is reflected in the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth in this free course, Challenging the biomedical model of childbirth.

People's views on health and disease are often influenced by an official discourse which today, just as in times past, has projected authoritative messages about what should be considered important. Such official accounts contain judgments about health, emphasizing some ideas and practices while marginalizing others. In childbirth, there have been many challenges to these official ways of seeing and doing, and this course focuses on some of them.


This course introduces three important factors influencing our understanding of health and illness: the medicalization of childbirth; how the biomedical model is being challenged; and how a broader, more social view of childbirth is emerging. You will explore the biomedical model of childbirth, and how this has been challenged by some health professionals and service users. There has been a strong impetus in the UK to improve care for women during childbirth, and this has included a move away from a medical model where pregnancy and childbirth are seen as something pathological – as an illness – towards a broader, more social model of care. This course discusses the official response to this movie, and how it has played out in practice. You will hear from three women who have had very different experiences and consider the effectiveness of policies designed to give women more choices during childbirth. Before you start, consider how to use your study of this course – for example, by recording your ideas in a paper-based or online journal. If you are a health practitioner, you may wish to use your work to help build a portfolio of evidence of your health and illness knowledge and skills.

Learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:
  • Discuss the dominance of biomedicine in Western societies' experience of childbirth
  • Understand concerns about the medicalization of childbirth
  • Demonstrate knowledge of challenges to the biomedical model and how a broader, more social view of childbirth is emerging
  • Show knowledge of how childbirth is a highly individual experience, and how research has tried to capture and understand the challenges women face in making birth choices.

Course Curriculum

    • The medicalisation of childbirth 00:50:00
    • Exploring the range of challenges 00:50:00
    • Values and choices in childbirth – putting the official response into practice 00:50:00
    • Personal experiences of childbirth 02:30:00
    • Survey research into the experience of childbirth 01:30:00
    • Conclusion 00:30:00

About the instructor

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Open University UK