Humanisation of childbirth 4. The paradox of the institution

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In this fourth article of the 19th Midwifery basics series, Dr Elizabeth Newnham describes more of the research from the ethnographic study that is outlined in 'Towards the humanisation of birth: a study of epidural analgesia and hospital birth culture'. The background to the study is described in the second article of the series (Newnham 2019). This article focuses on the concept of the paradox of the institution - which incorporates analysis of the beliefs and practices observed within the hospital labour ward, set against the behaviour of the hospital itself - the institutional momentum which added yet another component to the already contested space of birth.

The institutional paradox also describes the way in which the hospital defines itself as a site of safety, yet behaves as a site of risk, and the way that technological, interventionist practices, which themselves may carry several risk factors, are perceived as safe, whereas practices that support birth physiology are constructed as risky.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-19
Number of pages4
JournalPractising Midwife
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • humanisation of childbirth
  • labour ward
  • hospital practices
  • Institutional factors
  • Paradox
  • midwifery


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