Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Gettin’ Fit to Push a Bit: Medical advice about exercise during pregnancy (1900-present)

Gettin’ Fit to Push a Bit: Medical advice about exercise during pregnancy (1900-present)

Emily K. Lock

This paper examines how medical discourse concerning risk associated with exercise during pregnancy has changed over time. It focuses on how these changes reflect western biomedical ideas of “healthy bodies” at different points in time and how they relate to larger cultural changes surrounding the bodies of women and their role in society. Using theories of risk, agency, feminism and the body; this research tells a larger story about how women, reproduction and women’s bodies are, and have been medicalized and conceptualized within western society. Data for this project was drawn from pregnancy self-help books written by biomedical practitioners between 1901 and 2016. The pregnancy discourse is contextualized within the timeline of pregnancy medicalization and the feminist movement to give a broader cultural picture of conceptions of reproduction through the 20th and 21st centuries. This research finds that while exercise has been prescribed for pregnant patients since 1901, the types of exercise suggested has changed overtime from simply “routine housework” to jogging and light weight-lifting. However, the most pronounced change in pregnancy exercise discourse over the last 116 years was the language doctors used to engage their patients, early discourse talks down to the reader, directing them, while more recent discourse engages the reader in a more conversational style of writing that speaks to them as intelligent, individuals with agency over their bodies.

April 6, 2017 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I am really interested in this topic, and I can see it branching out into a few different areas of study. We obviously still live in a patriarchal world, and I wonder if the change you saw in the texts in self help books matches a shift in how women are talked to by their OBs (so if there is a difference between spoken and written discourse). I’m really curious to see what you have found the text looks like as the more modern “crunchy” parenting has become more mainstream.

    Comment by Rebecca Sawyer | April 17, 2017 | Reply

  2. I think your topic is creative and extremely relevant, especially considering how prevalent pictures of ‘fit pregnancy’ are. As for the shift in how doctors talk about exercise during pregnancy, did you come across any sources that show that doctors are being trained to address this topic differently?

    (Also, I love the title!)

    Comment by lynncharara | April 18, 2017 | Reply

  3. The discourse that doctors and the public use when it comes to health can be surprising. I was just reading today about how much water we should drink and how many differing opinions there are about the topic. Some of the authors and readers suggest the change comes with social change like you present with your topic on staying fit during pregnancy. They also suggest that it could somewhat be perpetrated by companies who want to sell more water bottles. I wonder if you’ve come across any information that discusses the possibility of consumerism having a hand in the idea that pregnant women should stay active.

    Comment by Bridget Bennane | April 26, 2017 | Reply

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