Pregnancy, Birth, and Babies: Motherhood and Modernization in a Yucatec Village

  • Amanda VeileEmail author
  • Karen L. Kramer
Part of the Global Maternal and Child Health book series (GMCH)


We examine the medicalization of birth in a Mexican Yucatec Maya farming community over the past 65 years. Our findings are drawn from longitudinal demographic data collection (1992–2014) and 56 maternal ethnographic interviews. We describe and contrast the maternal experience of three cohorts of women whose reproductive careers transpired in the context of energetic and epidemiologic transitions: Cohort 1 women had their first birth from 1950 to 1977, under conditions of traditional midwifery, subsistence farming, and energetic stress; Cohort 2 women had their first birth from 1978 to 1999; a time of energetic transition as laborsaving technology and some medical care was introduced; and Cohort 3 women had their first birth from 2000 to 2014, a period of increasing modernization and epidemiologic transition. Hospital births have become increasingly common since the late 1990s and are associated with increased birth complications, medical interventions, nonelective cesarean section procedures, postpartum rest periods, and increased formula feeding, as well as decreased maternal intrapartum support. Still many Maya mothers retain several traditional practices; some visit the traditional birth attendant (midwife) for prenatal and postnatal care, and prolonged and intensive breastfeeding is still the norm. Infant mortality rates from Cohort 3 are higher than Mexico’s national average, but in Cohorts 1 and 2, they were lower than Mexico’s national average. A number of unique factors may have contributed to the maintenance of low maternal-infant mortality in this community, even in times of energetic stress and when biomedical care was lacking. These include the effective Maya midwifery system, intensive breastfeeding practices, and a sanitary water supply.


Indigenous women Maternal health Mexico Pregnancy Central America Prenatal care Yucatan Midwife Maternal morbidity Maternal mortality Child mortality Cesarean section Breastfeeding Yucatec Maya Episiotomy Traditional midwife Tubal ligation Childbirth Pregnancy complication Curanderismo Obstetric death Mayan medical system Infant mortality 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Center on Aging and the Life CoursePurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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