Cartoons are fun. We watched them as children, we laugh at them on Pinterest and maybe we even still enjoy reading them in the newspaper. However, fun illustrations and cartoons show up in the materials we use as childbirth educators, doulas and health care professionals, and we wonder if this is the best place for them. Perhaps smiley faces and line drawings can serve to show labor in a gentler way or to be lighthearted about serious subjects, but when the reality of labor begins or in the first few days with a newborn, did these cartoons do enough to prepare mothers and fathers for their real life experiences, or did they minimize the intensity of it all? Will parents relate to these graphics in the same way that they would to photos and videos of real people?
Apart from the style of illustrations, we have seen materials including cartoons that are dated, and feel like that “old” appearance may also contribute to a disconnect for parents. If the image was created when their mothers or grandmothers were giving birth, many couples might dismiss the information as being irrelevant for today’s experience, even though the process of birth hasn’t changed.
Of course, there is a time and place for illustrations in place of real photos or video. When discussing episiotomies, for example, it would be pretty traumatic for most couples to see a photo of the procedure, and a quality illustration gives enough information. But for things like the stages of labor, labor positions, newborn care and breastfeeding, would parents feel more prepared if they saw more modern photos and videos? Would it feel more normal if they were exposed more often to the real thing ahead of time?
Perhaps a balance is what is best. Couples may benefit from a mix of all kinds of media and a skilled professional to help guide them through the information so that they are aware, but not frightened. Then, the labor process and the postpartum experience will meet their expectations, rather than catch them off guard.
Here is our favorite resources for teaching that balances real photos and illustrations in a nice way.
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