Social/Medical Model and the concept of ‘Normal’ Birth

The December issue of The Practising Midwife included the slightly more theoretical article ‘Normal birth: social-medical model’.[1] The paper is written by Ms. Jillian Ireland, midwife and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Union Learning Rep. at Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Visiting Faculty at Bournemouth University in collaboration with BU Professor Edwin van Teijlingen.

The paper argues that someone’s perspective of birth is not simply semantic. Thus, whether a midwife describes her role as being ‘with woman’ through labour or as someone who ‘delivers’ women of babies does not just demonstrates a more or less currently politically correct description. No, it suggests having different perspectives or world views of pregnancy and childbirth. Sociologists recognise two different approaches as two different models, a social model and a medical model of childbirth. The social model stresses that childbirth is a physiological event that takes place in most women’s lives. The medical model highlights that childbirth is potentially pathological. In the latter view every pregnant woman is potentially at risk, hence she should deliver her baby in an obstetric hospital with its high-technology screening equipment supervised by expert obstetricians. In other words, pregnancy and childbirth are only safe in retrospect.

The Practising Midwife’s paper argues that having some understanding of the underlying sociological models of pregnancy and childbirth can help politicians, journalists, policy-makers, midwives, doctors, and new mothers (and their partners) to put issues around ‘normal birth’ into perspective. This paper builds on previous work by the second author on the medicalisation of childbirth and the social/medical model published in Sociological Research Online[2] and Midwifery.[3]

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen
Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health


1. Ireland, J., van Teijlingen, E. (2013) Normal birth: social-medical model, The Practising Midwife 16(11): 17-20.
2. van Teijlingen, E. (2005) A critical analysis of the medical model as used in the study of pregnancy and childbirth, Sociological Research Online, 10 (2) Web address:
3. MacKenzie Bryers, H., van Teijlingen, E. (2010) Risk, Theory, Social & Medical Models: a critical analysis of the concept of risk in maternity care, Midwifery 26(5): 488-496.