Does it matter how childbirth is portrayed in the media?

This source preferred by Ann Luce, Vanora Hundley and Edwin van Teijlingen

Authors: Hundley, V., Luce, A., Cash, M., Van Teijlingen, E., Angell, C. and Cheyne, H.

Start date: 26 November 2013

The changing place of birth, from home to hospital, has made the media an increasingly important source of information for women. Birth is no longer visible in the community and it has been said that most women will only witness birth through the ‘eye of a television camera’ (Clements, 1997). The question is can the media influence women’s behaviour in relation to early labour management?

There is evidence that cultural perceptions and societal attitudes influence women’s decisions about when to enter hospital in labour (Barnett et al, 2008; Cheyne et al, 2007). Knowing when to ‘come in’ is key; entering hospital too early in labour has been shown to be detrimental to the health of women, resulting in a cascade of unnecessary and avoidable interventions (e.g. caesarean section) and cost (Hundley, 2013). We conducted a scoping review to identify the current state of knowledge on media representations of labour and birth and the impact that these portrayals have on mothers to be, partners and families, and health professionals (Luce et al. 2013).

The findings suggest that birth is portrayed in the media as an unusual and dangerous event. The drama required for television programmes means that birth is often shown as being risky and requiring medical intervention. Normal birth is rarely seen in the media. It is suggested that women seek out television programmes to add to their knowledge about childbirth because of a cultural void on this topic. However, the impact that these media representations of labour and birth have on women has not been explored.

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