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Top-Selling Childbirth Advice Books: A Discourse Analysis


  • Holly Powell Kennedy CNM, PhD,

    Corresponding author
    1. Holly Powell Kennedy is the Helen Varney Professor of Midwifery, Yale University School of Nursing, New Haven, Connecticut
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  • Katrina Nardini CNM, WHNP, MS,

    1. Katrina Nardini is Staff Midwife, Women's Health Specialists, Ltd., Albuquerque, New Mexico
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  • Rebecca McLeod-Waldo CNM, MS,

    1. Rebecca McLeod-Waldo is a Staff Midwife, Petaluma Health Center, Petaluma, California
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  • Linda Ennis CNM, MS

    1. Linda Ennis is Clinical Associate Professor and doctoral student, University of California San Francisco School of Nursing, Departments of Family Health Care Nursing & OB/GYN/RS, San Francisco, California, USA.
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  • This study was funded by the Childbirth Connection, New York, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives Foundation, Silver Spring, Maryland, through the Hazel Corbin Award for Evidence-based Practice.

Holly Powell Kennedy, CNM, PhD. FACNM, FAN, Professor, Yale University School of Nursing, 100 Church Street South, PO Box 9740, New Haven, CT 06536-0740, USA.


Background:Recent evidence suggests that one-third of women receive information about pregnancy and childbirth through books. Messages about what characteristics are normal (or expected) in childbirth are disseminated in a variety of ways, including popular childbirth education books, but little study of them has been conducted. The purpose of this investigation is to address that gap by examining the discussions about childbirth in the 10 top-selling books in the United States.Methods:Discourse analysis (relating to the public, personal, and political discussions about a specific phenomenon) was used to study 10 best-selling United States childbirth advice books marketed to childbearing women during the first week of November 2007.Results:Book styles ranged from clinical descriptions of pregnancy and birth primarily offering reassurance, self-help information, and danger signs to more folksy and humorous commentaries. Presentation of scientific evidence to support recommendations was uneven and at times inaccurate. Five focal areas of discourse included body image, labor and birth, pain, power and control, and life preparation for motherhood.Conclusions:Top-selling books shine an interesting light on the current state of United States maternity practices. Women and health professionals should assess them carefully and engage with each other about their recommendations and implications for childbirth.