This article appears in the Sage Encyclopedia of Anthropology, Sage Publications, 2005
Until recently in human history, birth has been exclusively the work of the work of women as they labor and bear down with their uterine muscles to push their babies from the private inner world of their wombs into the larger world of society and culture. Yet today increasing numbers of women around the world have their babies pulled through the vaginal canal with forceps or vacuum extractors, or cut from their wombs via cesarean section. The medical definition of birth is the emergence of a baby from a womb—a definition that ignores all issues of women’s involvement and agency. This definition and its implications encode the challenges faced by social scientists who study childbirth.