The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This week, network director Ciara Meehan looks at the dissemination of reproductive advice and information to women in 1960s Ireland.
Heidi Murkoff’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting is the biggest selling book for expectant mothers. First published in 1984, over eighteen million copies have since been sold, contributing to the book being named in 2007 by USA Today as one of the most influential books of the past twenty-five years. This household title is part of a well-established publishing tradition catering for pregnant women. As part of my current project on the everyday lives of women in 1960s Ireland, I’ve been researching the sources of information available to pregnant women, looking in particular at magazines and other prescriptive literature.
Despite the clear success of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, pregnant women are increasingly turning to the internet for further information, and there is a growth in the number of pregnancy-related websites. Surveys of usage in America, Italy, Sweden and China published between 2006 and 2013 show that between 72% and 95% of correspondents used the internet as a source of information on their pregnancy. A separate survey conducted over a twelve-week period in 2010 of 613 users of British-based pregnancy sites found that the most frequent reasons women gave for searching the internet during their pregnancy was to find out information for themselves, to acquire supplemental information to that provided by healthcare professionals, to check specific symptoms, and to give themselves greater control over the decision-making process relating to their pregnancy. The survey also asked women about additional sources and almost one-third of the participants sought information from magazines or newspapers.
The importance of magazines was even greater in the 1960s. Along with newspapers, they served as pre-digital sources of further information. Pregnancy manuals from that decade include Cross and Roden’s Preparing for your Baby and Erna Wright’s The New Childbirth. However, the reasons why women turned to magazines are strikingly similar to the reasons why women have logged on to the internet in the digital age.