Bearing the Pain

A Historic Review Exploring the Impact of Science and Culture on Pain Management for Childbirth in the United States

Lecture by Diane DiTomasso

Tuesday March 21, 2023
7:00 PM Eastern Time
Watson Institute
111 Thayer St.
Providence, RI
Room 115

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Poster for "Bearing the Pain" lecture showing black and white photo of postpartum mother holding newborn. Click through for PDF.


Scientific advances over the past 150 years have influenced pain management practices during childbirth. Cultural attitudes about pain in childbirth have also affected these practices. The objective of this work is to examine the history of pain management in childbirth in the United States and explore the relationship between cultural attitudes and care practices. A historic review was chosen as the research method. Included were records that described pain management practices and records that explored the relationship between care practices and American cultural attitudes about pain in childbirth. The health science reference databases of CINAHL (EBSCO host), PubMed and the Cochrane Library were searched for English language articles. There were no limitations in years searched. Twenty-five primary records and 42 secondary records met inclusion criteria and were used in this work. Scientific developments as well as ever-changing cultural attitudes have greatly impacted pain management practices for childbirth in America. A highly complex and parallel, relationship exists between science and culture regarding this history. To promote positive birth experiences for women, it is essential that obstetrical practices are congruent with cultural views regarding appropriate pain management in childbirth.


Dr. Diane DiTomasso Ph.D., RN, IBCLC has over 30 years of experience in the field of women’s health, she has worked as an obstetrical nurse and lactation consultant in both small community and large urban hospitals. She is currently a clinical associate professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Rhode Island. She also owns and operates a private lactation consultation practice. Her primary area of research is human lactation, with a specific focus on infant weight changes after birth. She is also interested in exploring how women’s experiences with childbirth affect the breastfeeding process. Her work has been widely published and her research on infant weight has earned awards from the Association of Women’s Health and Neonatal Nursing, the Eastern Nurses Research Association, and the International Lactation Consultant Association.  She speaks regularly at national and international breastfeeding conferences. Dr. DiTomasso is passionate about supporting new mothers and babies, especially during the early days and weeks following birth.