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Holistic obstetrics: the origins of “natural childbirth” in Britain
  1. O Moscucci
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Ornella Moscucci, Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK; 


The term “natural childbirth” denotes an approach to childbirth characterised by a bias towards physical and mental hygiene in the management of pregnancy and labour. It emerged in Britain in the interwar period, partly as a response to the growing interventionism of mainstream obstetrics. Its appeal since then has rested on the belief that it could provide a holistic approach to maternity care, capable of addressing the needs of the “whole” patient. At the same time, “natural childbirth” has provided a means of expressing anxieties about the social, economic and political upheavals of the 20th century. This paper explores this complex set of beliefs and practices by examining the ideas of some British pioneers.

  • childbirth
  • obstetric analgesia
  • holistic medicine
  • eugenics

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