The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Human Childbirth: an obstetrical dilemma or a solo act


Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida

Friday All day, Park Concourse Add to calendar

The obstetrical dilemma posits that through the evolution of bipedalism and encephalization, childbirth became more difficult for hominin females. Due to this increased difficulty, complications are more likely to arise and women may require assistance during childbirth. Indeed, it is theorized that in response to the obstetrical dilemma the genus Homo adapted through obligate midwifery. The term obligate indicates that this particular function, midwifery, is required for life in the same way as an obligate aerobe requires oxygen to grow. This project seeks to contribute to the issue of the obstetrical dilemma through analysis of qualitative data gathered with ‘solo’ birth mothers. Solo birth is the term being assigned to birth where the mother catches her own baby without the assistance from another person. Through an online survey and follow up emails, women were asked to describe their solo birth process and particularly how their baby presented and was caught. Thirty-four women responded to the survey indicating they had caught their own baby. The women’s responses were qualitatively analyzed. The narratives indicate that the majority of women received support, physical or emotional, during labor and prior to catching the baby. However, the narratives also indicate that the occiput anterior presentation was not an obstetrical problem. For example, when probed about the baby’s presentation, one woman stated, “The baby naturally does a little turn to face the mama when coming out.” These data suggest that obligate midwifery should be refined to better reflect a woman’s ability to birth unassisted.

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