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Media Representations of Pregnancy and Childbirth: An Analysis of Reality Television Programs in the United States

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Abstract:  Background: 

Reality-based birth television programs in the United States warrant close analysis because many women watch these shows to learn about birth. The purpose of this study was to understand how reproduction and birth are portrayed in these shows. We hypothesized that women’s bodies are displayed as inferior and in need of surveillance and that this inferiority of the female body is solved through technology and a medical approach to birth. Methods: 

We performed a content analysis of 85 reality-based birth television shows, depicting 123 births, aired in the United States on Discovery Health and The Learning Channel in November 2007. Results: 

The study hypotheses were largely supported. Women’s bodies were typically displayed as incapable of birthing a baby without medical intervention. The shows also lacked diversity in the representations of birthing women and, in particular, overrepresented married women and heterosexual women. Conclusions: 

This research suggests that reality-based birth television programs do not give women an accurate portrayal of how women typically experience birth in the United States, nor are the shows consistent with evidence-based maternity practices. (BIRTH 37:2 June 2010)

Keywords: birth; labor; maternity experiences; media representations

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-06-01

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