The Impacts of Covid-19 on Birth Practices in the United States

This rapid-response article (1) seeks to describe the quick and dramatic changes occurring in birth practices across the United States resulting from the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and the life-threatening disease it produces, Covid-19. Long before the Covid-19 epidemic hit the United States, the medicalization of pregnancy had led to a broad acceptance of birthing as hospital-based—where it is often treated like a dysfunctional mechanical process and its normal physiology is ignored. We explore the question of how Covid-19 is causing women and birth providers to look at birth differently, given that hospitals are now more than ever being perceived as sites of contagion. We show that Covid-19 offers a testing ground for ongoing debates about the efficacy of maternity care and the safety of hospital versus out-of-hospital (OOH) births. We conclude by suggesting specific policy changes to generate effective maternity care in the face of future pandemics and other disasters that are bound to increase in our era of the climate crisis.

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About Author: Robbie Davis-Floyd

Robbie Davis-Floyd, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Texas Austin, and Fellow of the Society for Applied Anthropology, is a medical anthropologist specializing in the anthropology of reproduction. Robbie lectures at childbirth, midwifery and obstetrical conferences around the world. Robbie has written over 80 articles and the book Birth as an American Rite of Passage (2004). Her research on global trends and transformations in childbirth, obstetrics and midwifery is ongoing.

Robbie is lead editor of ten collections. Robbie currently serves as editor for the International MotherBaby Childbirth Initiative ( and member of the Board of the International MotherBaby Childbirth Organization (IMBCO).

Robbie is co-author of From Doctor to Healer: The Transformative Journey (1998) and The Anatomy of Ritual (forthcoming). She has co-edited ten collections, including Childbirth and Authoritative Knowledge: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (1997);Reconceiving Midwives: The New Canadian Model of Care; Mainstreaming Midwives: The Politics of Change (2006); Intuition: the Inside Story (1997); and Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots (1998); and Birth Models That Work (2009). Her research on global trends and transformations in childbirth, obstetrics and midwifery is ongoing.

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About Author: Kim Gutschow

Kim Gutschow lectures in the departments of Anthropology and Religion at Williams College. She has researched and published on maternal and newborn health in India and the United States, and on the dynamics of irrigation, land, and social power in the Himalayas. Her first book Being a Buddhist Nun (Harvard 2004) won the Sharon Stephens Prize from the AES, and she is currently lead-editing Sustainable Birth in Disruptive Times (Springer Press, forthcoming 2020) with Robbie Davis-Floyd and Betty-Anne Daviss, while finishing Human Rights Failures: Maternal Mortality in India and the US, and The Buddha’s Mother’s Death: Maternal Mortality Then and Now. ORCID ID: 0000-0001-8568-2052.

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About Author: David A. Schwartz

David A. Schwartz is a clinical professor at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta with specialization in global maternal and infant health, emerging infections, and medical anthropology. He has studied the effects of HIV, Zika virus, Ebola virus, and Covid-19 on maternal and fetal outcomes and anthropological aspects of pregnancy, and is the Editor of the Springer book series Global Maternal and Child Health. ORCID: 0000-0002-7486-8545.

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