Birth - Birth Records and Birth Labor Techniques

The process of childbirth is a much more talked about event than it was 100 years ago. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, birth was still considered the somewhat secretive domain of a woman. During this time women were attended to by other women like midwives, friends, mothers and other female relatives as had been the process since ancient times. But this process was rapidly changing as the perception of birth as a scientific procedure became more common. It was rapidly becoming the domain of doctors.

Birth and Labor: A Doctor's Domain

Birth journals, as we know them to be today, weren't common 100 years ago but other methods of recording childbirth were. Birth records from this time period show that the transition from midwife-assisted births was happening quickly, especially in the United States. Lower classes tended to give birth the traditional way with the aid of a midwife but the upper classes perception was that the traditional way of birthing was old fashioned and risky. American doctors, especially, campaigned against under the argument that women didn't have sufficient knowledge of such things to know what they were doing.

By the Victorian era the perception that women were too fragile for the rigors of childbirth became common. Traditionally birthing has been done in an upright position sitting, kneeling, squatting or standing. By the mid-1800s it was more common for a woman to labor and deliver a baby while lying in bed. The preferred position was the lithotomy position where a woman is on her back lying down with her knees up. This position is still the desired on in most hospitals.

Chloroform became more common for labor pain relief in the upper classes. It was often given by the woman's relatives before the doctor arrived. Births were still at home because respectable women of that time simply did not give birth in a hospital for modesty reasons. Forceps use was beginning to be more common. And doctors worked by touch alone, maintaining eye contact with the woman and working under a sheet in many cases. There was rarely any view of the genitals. Imagine how shocked a Victorian woman would be at modern birth videos and birth pictures! A late 20th century and 21st century birth movie often has close-ups of the genitals including details of what happens when a baby crowns. Plus the individual recording the childbirth video would be considered a person who isn't helping with the progression of labor and is "unnecessary" and during this time there was a movement to remove unnecessary people from the birthing scene.

The Birth Certificate

In ancient times there were no birth certificates. This type of certificate is defined as a "vital record that documents the birth of a child." Its original purpose was for tax reasons and to help government determine available military power. Many countries like Egypt, Greece, China, Persia and Rome kept birth records. Originally churches or other religious organizations were the registers of birth and it was this way well into the 19th century.

Compulsory birth registration didn't happen until 1853 in England. Today it is compulsory in many countries and most countries have a set of laws and statutes regarding birth registration. It can be the responsibility of the hospital administrator, midwife, doctor or the parents themselves depending on the country.

Birth registration works as a type of proof of existence. It allows the individual to prove their nationality, marry, open a bank accord, drive, purchase property, get a passport, receive healthcare and go to school. Still, UNICEF reports that more than two fifths of children born around the world aren't registered at birth. Reasons include cultural and social beliefs, economic barriers, war, fear of discrimination and poor infrastructure.


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