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How Modern Medicine Is Used as a Form of Social Control During Pregnancy

Casey has a Ph.D. in Sociology and has 15 years of experience in academia.


How We Are Socialized to Think of Pregnancy

Women are socialized to believe that pregnancy is a condition deviating from normal health and that they need to rely on medical professionals to treat such a condition reinforcing dependency (Johnson 2008). Pregnancy in modern society is treated as a medical issue, where conception, gestation, birth, and genetic inheritance are monitored, examined, and controlled by experts in the medical field (Perry 2008). Medical professionals are put in positions of authority over pregnant women and are given the task of helping women regulate their bodies according to set medical standards seen as minimizing health risks.

The medical community has set standards for pregnant women and medical professionals are expected to follow to minimize health risks. Standards that have been set include the monitoring and regulating of activities such as eating, drinking, weight gain, emotions, exercise, and sexual activity (Kukla and Wayne 2011).

“Women feel pressure, exerted by medical professionals, agencies of the state, women’s magazines and pharmaceutical marketers to monitor their diets, weight, appearance, activities, behaviors, and thoughts for any signs of abnormality or illness. During pregnancy, this surveillance effort is increased, as medical doctors and nurses conduct tests to ensure that mothers are complying with best medical practices and fetuses are developing normally”

— (Johnson 2008)


Issues With Medicalization of Pregnancy

The medicalization of pregnancy is a major issue because control over pregnancy is taken out of the patients hands and put in the hands of medical practitioners. In Zardorozyj's article “Social Class, Social Selves and Social Control In Childbirth” (1999) she argues that medicalization is an alienating process that disempowers those without obstetrical training and is a process that focuses on issues of safety and not women's subjective experiences of giving birth.

Because of the focus medical practitioners put on safety and reducing risks, there are higher chances of technological interventions being recommended to patients. The focus put on reducing risks during pregnancy and safety of patients is in some ways a positive impact of medicalization because care given to expectant mothers and fetuses has improved in modern society and has improved health and made pregnancy/childbirth safer. Technological interventions are not always positive though and there may be unknown negative impacts of interventions.

Medicine Used As A Form of Social Control

According to research done by Heather A. Cahill (2000) at the University of York, medicalization has become a form of social control where patients trust their doctors to be moral and objective and as knowing the correct ways to treat health issues. Because of medicalization, medical jurisdiction has increased into areas not previously seen as medically defined problems. Social control is obtained by defining pregnancy as a medical disorder, by the usage of technological interventions to monitor and control biological processes, and through the usage of a medical setting.

Women's control and expertise over pregnancy is decreased and dependency on health care practitioners is ensured because they are seen as authority figures knowing privileged knowledge obtained through education and experience. Women's reproductive functions have been redefined to be seen as hazardous which has made women dependent on medical practitioners out of the belief that medical practitioners will do what is best to increase safety and reduce risks during pregnancy and childbirth (Zardorozyj 1999).

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Read More From Soapboxie

How effective modern medical knowledge and expertise actually is, has been an issue that has been debated in modern times. Most births take place in hospitals where technology is used as the basis for treatment making an evaluation of the effectiveness of medicalization impossible to accomplish. Because of the standardization of medical practices it is hard to measure whether or not medical interventions and routine medical practices are always necessary or beneficial to patients in all cases.


Cahill, Heather. 2000. “Male Appropriation and Medicalization of Childbirth: An Historical Analysis” Journal of Advanced Nursing. 33(3): 334-342

Inhorn, M. C. (2006). Defining women’s health: A dozen messages From More Than 150 Ethnographies. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 20(3): 345–378.

Ivry Tsipy and Elly Teman. 2008. “Expectant Israeli Fathers and the Medicalized Pregnancy: Ambivalent Compliance and Critical Pragmatism.” Culture Medical Psychiatry. 32: 358-386

Johnson, Candice. “The Political Nature of Pregnancy and Childbirth.” Canadian Journal of Political Science. 41(4):889–913

Kukla, Rebecca and Wayne, Katherine, "Pregnancy, Birth, and Medicine", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Parry, Diana 2008. “We Wanted A Birth Experience, not a Medical Experience: Exploring Canadian Women Use of Midwifery.” Health Care for Women International. 29: 284-806

Rooks, Judith. 2006. “The History of Childbearing Choices in the United States.” Midwifery & Childbirth in America

Zadoroznyj, Maria 1999. “Social class, social selves and social control in childbirth.” Sociology of Health & Illness. 21(3):267-289

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Casey White

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