You and Your Baby (Home, Husband, and Doctor)

Article Summary by Kate Errington

You and Your Baby was a pregnancy advice booklet, produced by the British Medical Association (BMA) from 1957–1987. This booklet was provided to expectant mothers in the UK, free of charge, and offered authoritative information on pregnancy, childbirth and caring for infants. But, in addition to the typical information you might expect about mother and baby health, You and Your Baby advised readers on matters such as maintaining their appearance, marital relations, and domestic duties. In this way, it advocated a specific vision of motherhood, with responsibilities to the home and husband. Further to these duties, this article will focus on the balance of responsibilities between pregnant women and their doctors, and how attitudes to trust and authority developed over time. The BMA publication repeatedly warned readers against listening to “old wives’ tales”, instead emphasising the importance of accepting (and not questioning) professional medical guidance. Following the thalidomide scandal, however, women were made partially responsible for doctors’ professional integrity; women were advised to avoid asking their doctors to prescribe medication that may later prove to be harmful, shifting the responsibility from the healthcare practitioner to the mother. This created an uncomfortable dissonance between the publication’s attempts to establish and reinforce medical authority, and yet shift professional responsibility. The booklet series, therefore, posed women as responsible for their doctors, as well as their babies. In summary, this article presents a case study of the You and Your Baby BMA booklet, examining developing healthcare messaging around maternal behaviour and responsibility. It draws attention to supposed responsibilities to the home, husband, and doctor and how those responsibilities changed over thirty years.

 

Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.

 

Portrait of Kate ErringtonKate Errington is a PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Funded by the Bloomsbury Colleges, she is researching the cultural history of maternity care in the UK, 1945-present, with a focus on the communication of risk. Her research combines archival research with public engagement, asking how historical knowledge can help us to interrogate the present moment and contemporary healthcare experiences. Kate is the co-founder of the Broadly Conceived network (@BConceived), an interdisciplinary network for postgraduates and early career researchers interested in reproduction.

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