"Medical discourse" and "humanizing discourse" represent two different ways of defining and assisting pregnancy and childbirth. This article - based on an ethnographic research conducted in a National Health Service hospital in Northern Italy and 25 in-depth interviews with midwifes - analyses how medicalising decisions are justified by midwives during the childbirth assistance. Firstly, the article focuses on some reasons for medicalisation which are considered as legitimate by the majority of the actors involved in child delivery (midwife, obstetrician, parturient): the reduction of risk for the parturient and for the child; the organization of hospital facilities; freedom of choice for the parturient; legal pressures induced by the fear of legal action by the women giving birth. Secondly, other reasons, which are considered as illegitimate by the actors, are analysed: they are related to the fact that, through medicalising practices, midwives and obstetricians reduce the embarrassment and the distress of the childbirth-interaction and they are able to control the pace of work, their workload and working hours.
Keywords: Ostetrica, parto, medicalizzazione, organizzazione dell’ospedale, sociologia della salute, etnografia.