Changing Expectation: Prenatal Care and the Creation of Healthy Pregnancy
- Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
- Oxford University Press
- Volume 75, Number 3, July 2020
- pp. 324-343
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In the early to mid-twentieth-century United States, prenatal care helped reshape pregnancy by extending medical directives into the everyday life of pregnant women. What began with minimal strategies for a few women at high risk grew into a "lifestyle" for all expecting babies. Maternity manuals helped popularize this process. Studying revisions of a widely circulated and publicly funded manual, Prenatal Care, from the U.S. Children's Bureau between 1913 and 1983, shows that prenatal-care standards offered women healthy pregnancies on condition that they abandon older ways of understanding pregnancy and become maternity patients. Prenatal Care taught women to take positive steps to enhance outcomes, but a woman's active role in her own pregnancy was complicated by the fact that the guides made obedience to her doctor her primary responsibility.