How do social discourses of risk impact on women’s choices for vaginal breech birth? : A qualitative study of women’s experiences

Karolina Petrovska, Nicole Watts, Athena Sheehan, Andrew Bisits, Caroline Homer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article, we aim to explore the impact of social discourses of risk around childbirth on the decisions made for birth by women who planned to have a breech baby late in pregnancy. This article uses data from a qualitative descriptive study in New South Wales, Australia in 2013. In the study, we talked to 22 women about their decision-making process for planned a vaginal breech birth and the impact of social discourses of risk on this decision. In total, 12 of these women had a vaginal birth and the other 10 had a Caesarean section. In this article, we note that the mothers talked about their option for birth in a social setting in which the dominant discourse focused on the riskiness of breech birth and the vulnerability of female bodies that required medical surveillance, supervision and intervention to ensure a safe birth. Thus, for these mothers their pregnancy was seen through the societal lens of risk and medicalisation, with surgical intervention through a Caesarean section seen by society as the optimum choice. Women could resist this dominant discourse but such resistance required both justification and action, for example, the women who wanted a vaginal birth often had to resist the pressure from their families to have a Caesarean section. We identified four related strands in women’s talk about resisting the dominate discourse: acknowledgment that they would be considered irrational for wanting a vaginal birth; having confidence in and believing that their body could give birth vaginally; convincing significant others that a vaginal birth was possible and desirable and looking for sources of support, for example, from new online social networks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-37
Number of pages19
JournalHealth, Risk and Society
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes


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