Pregnant Women - Childbirth Historical Changes

Technically, nothing has changed over the years of human existence with what happens to a pregnant woman giving birth. In every case the baby needs to come out of the mother's body, travel down the birth canal and exit through her vagina. This is the way babies have been born from the beginning of time and babies are still born this way in the  modern age, unless there are medical complications. What has changed are the attitudes towards pregnancy by women and by the people in general.

Ancient Perspective of Pregnancy

In ancient times, death during pregnancy and childbirth were very common. The newborn and early childhood death rate was also very high. Both birth and death, although still painful to the ancient people, were taken more in stride and were considered part of the cycles of the earth, the moon and the tides. This, to a certain degree, is understandable even with modern science. We know that conception can only occur a certain time of the month and in ancient times this, and a woman's menstruation cycle, were often determined based on the position of the moon. Figuring out when a baby would be born was done by the position of the moon, the type of mood and the cycles of the earth such as planting or harvest time.

Pregnancy was not typically discussed among ancient men. It was considered a woman's domain and a laboring woman was the job of the mother, sisters, female friends and midwives. Knowledge of childbirth and the symptoms of a pregnant woman were passed down from woman to woman and it was this way right through the 1800s in many areas of the western world.

Having a baby was believed to be the influence of the culture's gods and goddesses and it wasn't entirely understood how that very specific act between a man and a woman (called sexual intercourse today) could end in the birth of a baby. It was only known that the act had to occur for a baby to be born.

Ancient women tended to give labor and give birth in an upright position either sitting, kneeling, squatting or standing. Sometimes women tried to make sure they had birth near sacred waters, trees or stones since it was thought, in some cultures, that sacred places kept evil spirits away from the baby.

Medieval Times to the 17th Century

Birth was still considered a natural process and woman trusted midwives and female friends and family to provide them with care. Midwives were especially respected and were often the most highly regarded women in their villages. Doctors, mostly men at that time, only came in emergencies when both or either mother or baby were on the brink of death. There was a saying: "When a man comes, one or both must die."Elaborate rituals were often practiced after birth among the wealthy. All classes of women often had a lying-in period of up to a month where the mother recovered. Women worked together to "church" (teach) a new mother.

The 1800s

Changes of a woman's perspective of pregnancy started to change drastically in the 1800s. By the Victorian era science had started to take over the process of childbirth and doctors claimed that women were too fragile for traditional childbirth and needed to labor and give birth lying down. Ether and chloroform were used to treat labor pain. Even though women were considered too fragile, the post-birth rest period was eliminated among the working classes. Pregnancy was seen as something to be ashamed of and many women disappeared from the social scene when pregnant.

The Modern Woman

Attitude towards pregnancy has drastically changed late in the 20th and 21st centuries. Pregnant symptoms are openly discussed by women and men. The "baby belly" is not something to be ashamed of and pregnant woman photography and belly casting is common as is pregnant woman video. Both are used by many women to create lasting memories of their pregnancies. Even the perception of pregnancy being something for only young women has changed with technology. The oldest pregnant woman was a 78-year-old Chinese woman who had already had eight children during her younger years.


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