Reality Television Is Impacting Pregnancy And Labour Expectations

A new study suggests that reality television is affecting women’s expectations of childbirth and pregnancy

Pregnancy and childbirth seem to be all the rage on reality television at the moment. If it’s not the terrifying I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant it’s the more benign A Baby Story. If you aren’t watching the somewhat depressing 16 And Pregnant (or the brilliant follow up Teen Mom), maybe you’re seeing on of the many vloggers and YouTubers that have turned to the internet to document their every pregnant move.

Whatever the form may be, babies and pregnancy seem to be a trending theme on reality television.

Who knows why this seems to be the current reality TV obsession, but a new study found that these shows are affecting the perceptions women have about pregnancy and childbirth in a really big way.

The study out of the University of Cincinnati followed a small, diverse group of women over two years. UC assistant professor of sociology Danielle Bessett monitored the television-viewing habits of 64 women from differing socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

Over the two years, 44% of the women admitted to watching come pregnancy-related reality television. Women who worked outside the home were less likely to watch shows like A Baby Story and Birth Day, compared to those who were unemployed or stayed home with the kids.

“We found clear class differences in how women saw television influencing their pregnancy knowledge,” Besset said to the American Sociological Association. “When asked what part reality shows or fictional TV played in their learning or education about pregnancy and the birthing process, the groups professed two entirely different perspectives.”

Those women who were seen as “highly educated” by the study parameters were more likely to take the reality shows as pure entertainment, while the “less educated” group viewed them as an “alternative to traditional childbirth education”.

Some women actually saw reality TV as a reliable source of information that they could take advantage of; “[they] basically did not rule any potential source of information out,” the study notes.

Because we know that reality television does not often concern itself with actual reality, Bessett says that these findings should be considered quite alarming.  “There is a strong sense that what women are getting from those reality shows is a more skewed and medicalized view,” said Bessett. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the time, these stories are completely fictional and sensationalized.

And here’s where the study really throws us for a loop: even those women who said they didn’t get pregnancy advice from reality TV made references (yup, that’s plural) to scenes from these shows, scenes that have added to what Bessett calls our “cultural mythologies of pregnancy.”

So the take away? Bessett claims television has a pretty intense subliminal impact on us all:

“If we believe that television works most insidiously or effectively on people when they don't realize that it has power, then we can actually argue that the more highly-educated women who were the most likely to say that television really didn't have any effect on them, may in the end, actually be more subject to the power of television than were women who saw television as an opportunity to learn about birth and who recognized TV's influence.”

What Bessett is saying here is that while the “highly educated” group think they aren’t being influenced by TV because they believe they shouldn’t be—not because they actually aren’t be influenced.

So basically we are all influenced by the reality television we watch, whether we know it or not. Now excuse me while I move to an island to fall in love while I simultaneously try to live in a house with twelve strangers and find out who is the mole. 

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