William Smellie helped to incorporate scientific medicine into the process of childbirth in eighteenth century Britain. As a male physician practicing in childbirth and female reproductive health (man-midwife), Smellie developed and taught procedures to treat breech fetuses, which occur when a fetus fails to rotate its head towards the birth canal during delivery. Throughout his career, Smellie compiled a wealth of information about female anatomy in his writings. He modified medical technology such as the obstetrical forceps, an instrument used to maneuver the fetus during childbirth. Smellie's techniques and improvements on forceps alleviated pain in women giving birth, mitigated complications during birth, and reduced infant mortality rates.
Dennis Lo, also called Yuk Ming Dennis Lo, is a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, China. In 1997, Lo discovered fetal DNA in maternal plasma, which is the liquid component of a pregnant woman's blood. By 2002, Lo distinguished the DNA differences between pregnant women and their fetuses, enabling scientists to identify fetal DNA in pregnant women's blood. Lo used his discoveries to develop several non-invasive and prenatal genetic tests, including tests for blood group status and Trisomy 21, also called Down's Syndrome. Lo's discovery of fetal DNA in maternal plasma lessened the risks to pregnant women and fetuses during prenatal testing, and it enabled early identification of potential genetic mutations in developing fetuses.
Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is a nonprofit organization that began in 1974 as a joint endeavor by Reginald and Catherine Hamlin and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia promotes reproductive health in Ethiopia by raising awareness and implementing treatment and preventive services for women affected by obstetric fistulas. It also aims to restore the lives of women afflicted with obstetric fistulas in Ethiopia and eventually to eradicate the condition. Obstetric fistulas occur in pregnant women during labor when pressure placed on the pelvis by the fetus causes a hole, or fistula, to form between the pregnant woman's vagina and bladder (vesicovaginal fistula) or between the vagina and the rectum (rectovaginal fistula). Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is governed by a board of trustees which includes founding member Catherine Hamlin. By 2014, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia supported the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, five treatment centers across Ethiopia, a midwife school, and a long-term rehabilitation center for women impacted by obstetric fistula.
In 1953, Virginia Apgar published the article "A Proposal for a New Method for Evaluation of the Newborn Infant" about her method for scoring newborn infants directly after birth to assess their health and whether medical intervention was necessary. Apgar worked at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, New York, as an obstetrical anesthesiologist, a physician who administers pain medication during childbirth. In that capacity, she sought to reestablish clear scoring guidelines for newborn infants so that she could compare which obstetric practices, pain relief methods, and resuscitation methods worked the best during and after childbirth. She published her article in Current Researches in Anesthesia and Analgesia in 1953, and the Apgar scoring system is still used in hospitals around the world as of 2016. In the article, Apgar establishes a scoring system for newborn infants that allows for quick assessment of their health directly after birth and therefore swift intervention by medical personnel to promote healthy development.
A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery is a three volume collection of patient accounts that William Smellie published from 1752 to 1764. Smellie, a physician and instructor in obstetrics in Great Britain, published these compilations to share his expertise in reproductive medicine, while also providing his students and colleagues with a source of reference in their own medical practices. Smellie wrote these books to shift obstetrics from a discipline practiced by midwives with limited medical training to one practiced in a medical context by physicians. Throughout his books, Smellie describes effective and ineffective treatments, tools, and interventions for complications during pregnancy. Due to the popularity of Smellie's writings, access to Smellie's work expanded beyond his students, allowing obstetricians, man-midwives, and physicians to refer to scientific literature and apply Smellie's teachings to their own practice.
James Young Simpson was one of the first obstetricians to administer anesthesia during childbirth in nineteenth century Scotland. Before his work in the 1800s, physicians had few ways to reduce the pain of childbirth. Simpson experimented with the use of ether and chloroform, both gaseous chemicals, to temporarily relieve pain. He found that those chemicals both successfully inhibited the pain women felt during childbirth and pain during other surgeries. Patients under the influence of chloroform fell asleep and were unaware of the intense pain of childbirth. Simpson’s work was not popular for a variety of reasons, and the major claim against his practice being that pregnant women should not receive a form of pain relief during labor and childbirth. Against common beliefs at the time, Simpson advocated in favor of using anesthetics for pain-free labor, which later became the standard for surgical procedures and childbirth.
Marshall Henry Klaus was a scientist and pediatrician who studied maternal-infant bonding in the twentieth century in the United States. Maternal-infant bonding is the psychological and chemical attachment between mother and infant. Klaus cofounded DONA International, an organization that trains birthing aides, called doulas, to provide physical and emotional support to laboring mothers. He also studied the differences between the layouts and quality of care provided in nurseries and birthing centers in different countries and compared them to those found in the United States. Klaus’s study influenced national and international initiatives to create hospital policies focused on promoting early bonding between mother and infant. Klaus catalyzed the advent of doulas and international policies that emphasized interaction between new mothers and their infants.
In 2013, Cynthia Daniels and a team of researchers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, founded the Informed Consent Project. Daniels and the researchers assessed the medical accuracy of information within state-authored informational materials for abortion. States give those materials to women who want an abortion, but using their research, the Informed Consent Project found some information from those materials to be inaccurate, misleading, and coercive. The Informed Consent Project gathered a panel of researchers and medical specialists to review the information about embryological and fetal development from twenty-three states’ informational materials. They found that approximately one-third of that information was inaccurate. The work of the Informed Consent Project challenges abortion-specific informed consent laws, highlighting medical inaccuracies in state-authored informational materials as evidence that women’s consent to abortion may be based on false or misleading statements.
As of 2021, twenty-eight US states have informed consent laws for abortion, which is a medical procedure to terminate pregnancy, often called Women’s Right to Know laws. Those laws often require the state government to develop informational materials that healthcare providers must give to women before an abortion. Informational materials generally include information about the process of fetal development, accompanied by illustrations or pictures, risks and effects of abortion, and alternatives to abortion. Supporters of informed consent laws for abortion argue that such information is important for women to make a decision to have an abortion. Individual states author and distribute those informational materials, which are a primary source of information for people who seek an abortion. Medical expert and abortion rights activists have criticized the materials for providing inaccurate information, making misleading statements, and using coercive language to discourage women from choosing abortion.