Just so you know — and you should know — the main models of health are the biomedical model and the social model.

First up, the social model emphasises that health is defined relative to what is considered normal. It is therefore subjective and specific to societies at particular times and in different places. So, whether someone is considered ill or not is therefore decided by those whose expertise a particular society values most highly. In Britain this is usually medical professionals.

This model claims medical science is as not as objective as it purports to be; instead it is influenced by wider social and economic factors, for example the priorities of drug companies affect the way the medical profession can evolve its practice. Lastly, you should know this model emphasises the social and economic factors underlying patterns of ill health in a population.

On the other hand, the biomedical model can be said to view the body like a machine, which sometimes breaks down or malfunctions, which results in ill-health. So, health is framed as the absence of disease or disability. This model, which was adopted by the NHS, operates on the basis that ill-health has physical and biological causes which must be identified in order to treat symptoms.

The biomedical model has been criticised extensively, as you might imagine. Many disbelievers say health is a social construction rather than something to be defined objectively, for instance. Others believe it overlooks contextual factors such as social and cultural conditions, which combine to influence health and wellbeing. And lastly, critics say it focuses on treatment of illness rather than looking to treat the social causes that might underlie patterns of ill-health.

Feminist critiques of the biomedical model of health, on the other hand, have objected to the medicalisation of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, and the medical profession itself for being patriarchal. For example, Oakley (1992) criticised modern maternity services for functioning more as a means of control over women than a service offering care for women. Other notable feminist sociologists to have contributed to this research include Oakley Hart (1985) and Graham (1993) and Jebali (1993).

The latter is particularly notable for criticising the biomedical approach to postnatal depression (PND), suggesting that it pathologizes any experience of early motherhood that doesn’t fit with the patriarchal assumption that it should normally be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. Around one in 10 new mothers are thought to experience postnatal depression in the UK, so it’s far from a rare experience.

Adding to this school of thought, Douglas and Michaels (2004) suggest contemporary motherhood has become highly policed. Mothers police their own behaviour, police the behaviour of other mothers and are policed by other mothers through surveillance and social judgment that compares them against a norm or ideal of mothering behaviour, which often aligns with a middle-class stereotype of what good/bad mothers are like. So basically, mums can’t win!