15 Things New Moms Don't Know About Childbed Fever

Childbirth is intimidating. We hear horror stories from the women who have given birth before us, but they all tell us it is worth it once we have our baby in our arms. While we are in the labor and delivery part of the hospital, we may hear screams from our fellow mothers, birthing their new little ones. Then, it is our turn. We give birth to our new baby or babies and think that the worst is finally over. We now get to hold them in our arms and all is well in the world.

What many new moms do not realize is that we are not out of the woods yet. While we have the next 18 plus years to worry about our children, we should be worrying about ourselves. After putting our bodies through the trauma of childbirth, we are put at a great risk for something that is referred to as childbed fever. This is not the kind of fever that can be treated with aspirin and rest, but it can actually be life-threatening.

There is a history behind this illness and ways to try to protect ourselves from it. Read on to limit your risk even further. This may even be something to discuss with your birthing team.


15 It Has Affected Women For Over Three Centuries

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Childbed fever was first recorded in 1797. The woman’s name was Mary Wollstonecraft, who happens to be the mother of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley. In 1797, it was not known what the cause of childbed fever was, and there was therefore no treatment or cure for the infection. Mary Wollstonecraft died from this infection.

What we do know is that women from the 17th century through 19th century were heavily affected by childbed fever, especially when mass illness was occurring. Childbed fever was a major concern for expectant mothers, especially as mortality rates rose to what would be 50 percent of birth-related deaths for mothers. For a while, causes were hypothesized, watched and disproven. The one doctor that was figuring out the cause was shunned, as he was making important people look bad.

14 Strep In Your Reproductive Organs

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When we hear the word “strep” we think of the sore, scratchy throat ailment that causes white splotches on our throat. Most people encounter strep throat during their lifetime. Childbed fever can involve a form of strep that infects your genital region.

While it is not always a streptococcal infection that triggers childbed fever, it is one of the common causes. Strep is a form of a bacterial infection. Bacteria can spread very easily from person to person. One person may be the carrier while the other gets infected.

For childbed fever, a person generally has to get the infection through an open wound or mucus membrane. As any new mom will tell you, childbirth takes quite a toll on the reproductive organs, leaving the vaginal area as a huge pathway for bacterial infections.

13 Follow The Doctor To Get Sick

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The cause of childbed fever was unknown for a while. Medical science was not as advanced as it is today. A doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis wanted to figure out what was causing childbed fever and why it only happened to some women. Before Semmelweis observed the patterns that may contribute to childbed fever, women who got this infection were thought to have been possessed by evil spirits.

Semmelweis soon discovered that women who had deliveries performed by doctors were almost five times more likely to get childbed fever than women who had deliveries performed by midwives.

It was also discovered that doctors would perform procedures and then move on to the next one without cleaning up first. This even went to say that a doctor would perform an autopsy and then would go deliver a baby. It is said that anywhere with doctors had a higher rate of childbed fever than places without them.

12 Pain And Pus, Beware

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Childbed fever was not a difficult condition to detect. It came with severe symptoms that would overtake a woman’s body in a few short days. Childbed fever would cause extreme pain in the effected woman. This would quickly take over the woman’s body, infecting her entirely.

At one point, childbed fever was said to be, or cause, something called milk metastasis. The woman and all of her internal organs would be covered in a milky-like substance. It was later determined that the substance was in no way milk.

The white milky fluid was actually pus. Sometimes, pus would leak out of the reproductive organs, but that did not immediately cause alarm. Today, if there is any fever, extreme pain or pus, immediate action is taken to fight the infection and keep mom alive.

11 The Last Outbreak Was Caused By A Rosebush

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Childbed fever was, at one point, considered an epidemic. It posed a great threat to mothers who had given birth. Now, individual cases happen, but an epidemic has not occurred in over five decades. The last epidemic was started by an anesthesiologist in Boston, Massachusetts. He scraped his hand on a rosebush, therefore creating an open wound that later infected others.

No need to throw away any flowers though; childbed fever cannot be caused by the plant itself. It must have a carrier. It is likely that this anesthesiologist did not clean up after bleeding out from the scrape. This is what would have spread the infection to other people. It seems as though childbed fever has been lessened by our knowledge of science and medicine. Epidemics are always feared, especially ones that may affect mothers or children.

10 The Unknown Is Certain

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While childbed fever has been infecting people since the late 1700s, there are still a lot of unknown things about it. Medical professionals believe that the bacteria that can lead to childbed fever may have evolved over time.

This is generally a bad thing, as infections can evolve to be resistant to medication or treatment. The bacteria that causes childbed fever may have done the opposite. It appears it has become less potent and causes less havoc than it has in the past.

To infect the body, bacteria has to overtake the healthy cells. The healthy cells become infected, but will continue to replicate and therefore spread through the body. If the bacteria that causes childbed fever is no longer doing that, it will make it more difficult to spread. It could also mean that the bacteria have evolved to spread in other ways that do not involve overtaking cells. This could make it more lethal to the infected person. However, science does not know which way this is going.

9 Hand-Washing And Sanitization Are Key

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Ignaz Semmelweis was a true pioneer behind childbed fever research. He observed behaviors in his resident hospital to try to find a trend behind what was causing this terrible illness. He had hypothesized a few different ideas that could contribute to childbed fever. These included everything from frightened women to the position in which the women gave birth.

Once a friend of Semmelweis passed away after performing an autopsy on a woman that passed from childbed fever, Semmelweis had an idea. This came down to doctors washing themselves and their medical tools with a chlorine-based solution. When this was put into place, childbed fever rates dropped dramatically for women his staff worked on. This went to show how important cleanliness in hospitals was, even if doctors were opposed to it at first.


8 Childbed Fever Can Infect Men, Too

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With a name like childbed fever, this infection sounds like it could only affect new mothers who have recently delivered a baby. This is not true. While it commonly infected these mothers, since they were very exposed to the risk of infection, others could be infected by childbed fever as well. Semmelweis’s friend, the pathologist, had contracted childbed fever after he accidentally created an open wound on his hand while performing an autopsy on a woman who passed away from childbed fever.

This created a direct pathway for the infection to get into his body. It is a fast-acting infection. Anyone who came into contact with a person with childbed fever was put at risk of getting it, especially if there was an opening for it to spread through. This means both men and women who have not delivered children are at risk as well.

7 Healthcare Professionals Hate Washing Their Hands

Today, when we go to a doctor’s office or hospital, we expect for it to be incredibly clean. Many hospital rooms and doctor’s offices have sinks in each room to encourage doctors to wash their hands. There is also often a display of disposable gloves for the doctors to put on before continuing to examine a new patient.

This can be a nuisance for doctors, especially ones who have to fit in a lot of patients in one day, such as hospital staff. These doctors may not wash their hands or change their gloves. This can be the cause of a variety of infections that happen in hospitals. Many medical professionals complain that washing their hands so frequently dries out their hands and makes it painful to move their fingers. Washing hands can save lives and stop the spread of infections.

6 Infections Lead To Sepsis


Childbed fever-related deaths are ultimately a different form of sepsis. Sepsis is a well-known infection that happens in the bloodstream due to an infection that generally enters through an open wound. It is known for being particularly fatal when it is not treated. It escalates quickly, attacking tissues and organs within the body.

The infection that causes childbed fever causes sepsis to occur. It can also cause Toxic Shock Syndrome, which is generally heard about when referring to a tampon that has been in the body for too long.

Sepsis is an infection that requires immediate medical attention and intervention. It can cause damage even when discovered early. Ironically enough, Semmelweis, the man that did so much research to try to end childbed fever, died of a septic infection. Sepsis can infect both men and women equally.

5 An Alternate Cause Of Childbed Fever

Most cases of childbed fever are caused by unsanitary conditions. This could be from the doctor not washing his or her hands, the tools not being cleaned efficiently or the birthing place having lingering infections that have not been sanitized. While these are the most common ways that childbed fever is spread, there can be other causes.

There have been cases reported that state a “retained placenta” caused the infection that led to childbed fever-related deaths. It is possible that a retained placenta could cause something like Toxic Shock Syndrome, further leading to sepsis and childbed fever. Many other cases will say that the cause of childbed fever is unknown, as no medical professional wants to report their negligence in keeping themselves and their areas clean.

4 There Are Multiple Types Of Postpartum Infections


After giving birth, infection is possible. The body just experienced a great amount of trauma and created several open wounds in areas of the body that are not necessarily the most sanitary.

Postpartum infections can affect a variety of locations within the body and can be caused by different forms of bacteria. For example, there are at least three different types of infections that directly affect the uterus. These include endometritis, parametritis and myometritis.

Regardless of what part of the uterus they affect, they are all caused by a bacterial infection and can lead to childbed fever. While the overall mortality rate does not have any direct figures, some statistics say these infections can be the cause of about 10 percent of deaths that are related to pregnancy or post-pregnancy.

3 Areas With Higher Levels Of Poverty Are More Susceptible

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It is known that unsanitary hospitals and doctors can cause childbed fever as a result of their negligence. This is unfortunately more common in areas that are considered to be a part of the lower-class. These hospitals may be low-staffed, and doctors may have to rush from one patient to another.

This often means that doctors may skip out on their hygiene routine, or they may rush through it and not get the full effect. These hospitals may also not have the means to keep their equipment or rooms as clean as they should be. This leaves everyone that goes to this facility prone to infection, including doctors and nurses. These areas tend to see more deaths related to infections, such as childbed fever and sepsis, than other areas.

2 Infection May Take A Few Days To Set In

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Although childbed fever is often passed on during the birthing process, it does not happen instantaneously. For some mothers, they will experience symptoms of childbed fever within a day or so after delivery.

While this may not seem ideal, it may help them get treatment faster if they are still in the hospital. For other mothers, they may not notice any signs or symptoms of childbed fever until they get home and start settling in with their baby.

It can take up to ten days for the infection to take its toll. Any changes should always be questioned, especially if they are causing negative effects to the body. Fevers, pain, pus and overall sick feelings should be noted and a doctor should be consulted immediately. Any major weakness or paleness should also be a red flag.

1 Your Delivery Type May Change Your Risk

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While the true risk depends on the hygienic practices of the doctor, nurses and hospital, there are other factors that may impact a new mother’s risk of getting childbed fever. As stated before, things such as socioeconomic status may impact the risk of infection, as can a retained placenta. Other health issues, such as being anemic or obese, can also play a role in your risk of getting an infection.

Interestingly enough, the type of delivery that you have can play a part in your risk. According to Healthline, v-deliveries have the lowest rate of getting an infection, with the risk being between one and three percent. Cesareans can greatly increase the risk of obtaining an infection. An unplanned C-Section that occurs post-labor can up the risk to 15 to 20 percent. A planned C-Section is in the middle, with a risk of five to 15 percent.

Sources: The New England Journal of Medicine, NPR, Live Science, NPR, Jessica’s Trust, Healthline

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