Whenever a woman finds out that she is pregnant, the first thing she will want to do is make sure that she sees a doctor and is referred to a good quality obstetrician because, let's face it, anything can go wrong! But the odds are in her favor that as long as she takes good care of herself and her unborn baby everything will be fine. Then the thought of labor pain is enough to scare anyone. That is why so many women demand to have an epidural during labor, but yet some women decide to tough it out and experience the pain.
However, I am sure that it has crossed many minds of moms, and you as well, how on Earth did pregnant women go through pregnancy in the Middle Ages? Especially considering the fact that there was very little medical knowledge, and effective painkillers weren't around at that time. And you know they did manage to do it somehow, otherwise, you or I wouldn't be here!
It is very true that due to the fact that medicine was primitive, there were far more maternal and infant deaths that occurred during the Medieval times than it happens nowadays in the Western world anyway. However, the proof that we are here today indicates that many women had successful pregnancies and deliveries back then, not to mention incredibly painful for obvious reasons.
Even though there was very little medical knowledge, pregnant women had to basically rely on rules in order to basically hope for the best outcome, which meant a successful pregnancy and delivery of a healthy baby. Let's look at the 15 mind-blowing rules that pregnant women had to follow during the Middle Ages.
15 Not Allowed To Have A Male Doctor
It was risky to be both a woman and to be pregnant during the Middle Ages. That also meant that male doctors were forbidden from treating women in regards to anything to do with sexuality or reproduction. That said, treating women for pregnancy was off limits. That meant that obstetric and gynecological care was done by midwives or wise women who were referred to as lay healers.
What made this even riskier was that midwives during the Middle Ages had no medical training whatsoever. Not to mention, any kind of medical intervention that doctors used during medieval times lacked any type of technology imaginable. All the midwives could do was help these pregnant women by relying on the teachings of Aristotle and Hippocrates and identify bodily fluids. That was as advanced as obstetric care got back then. However, men simply were not allowed to treat women, pregnant or not, back then at all, unless it was for a simple cut on the finger or leg.
14 No Baths During The First Week Of Pregnancy
Firstly, we all know that the first week of pregnancy happens around the time right before implantation occurs. Therefore, we have no idea whether we are pregnant or not during the first week and it would not register on pregnancy tests either because nothing can be known before implantation happens. But back in the Middle Ages, that is not how they thought.
As soon as it was discovered that a woman was pregnant, it was the first week. And taking baths were forbidden because of the possibility of the pregnant woman becoming dizzy after due to a drop in blood pressure- which is not unrealistic. However, the other reason baths were forbidden was because the hot water would cause the whole body to loosen up and weaken the fetus. That part is quite odd.
Even today it is not recommended to take hot baths during early pregnancy due to a drop in blood pressure which could cause dizziness and weakness, like they said back in the Middle Ages. But luke-warm baths are fine and your body will not loosen up and make the fetus weak.
13 Expected To Wear Restricting Corsets
Women in the Middle Ages were expected to wear corsets because it represented femininity and social status, and pregnant women were not exempt from having to wear them. A woman would never dare to be seen in public unless they were wearing a corset.
The big problem with corsets is that they were meant to restrict a woman's waist, and they frequently caused trouble if the restriction was too tight. The act of this was called tightlacing, and it caused many problems for women who were not even pregnant, such as lower back pain, constipation, muscle atrophy as well as lung problems. Sadly for pregnant women, this practice also caused birth defects and miscarriages as a baby needs room to grow and a corset would not allow that to happen.
12 Had To Keep Away From Mice And Frogs
Pregnant women back in the Middle Ages needed to steer clear of anything that had to do with Aesop's Fables - especially the one about The Frog and the Mouse - quite literally. If pregnant women were in contact with a mouse or a frog, then they could potentially either scar their unborn baby or give them nightmares for their whole lives.
People were also warned to never throw mice or frogs at pregnant women because that would pretty much guarantee that not only would that unborn baby be scarred for life, but it could also cause that baby to turn into a monster. The problem is that mice were everywhere in the Middle Ages, though I do believe that exterminators did exist back then and they used plant extracts to kill off rats. However, it is unknown how effective it was and that said, staying away from rodents was not an easy thing to do back then.
11 Avoid Cherry Pits At All Costs
Cherries are absolutely delicious and are extremely rich in nutrients, and I am quite sure that pregnant women in the Middle Ages enjoyed a few cherries here and there. There was no issue with the cherries themselves; the issue was with the pits. Pregnant women had to avoid cherry pits like the plague because if they came into contact with those, they would increase the chance of staining the baby.
That also meant that pregnant women had to stay away from those who were eating cherries as well, and the rule applied to people, in general, to never throw cherry pits at pregnant women for that reason. However, today there is a rule to not throw cherry pits at pregnant women, or anyone else for that matter, because doing so means that you are assaulting that individual and that will most definitely get you a visit from the cops.
10 Not Allowed To Eat Fish Heads
Today, pregnant women are told to be careful with the kind of fish they eat because some types have high levels of mercury which can harm the development of the unborn baby. Tuna and shark meat is known to have high levels of the substance, therefore pregnant women are told to avoid eating those at all costs. However, fish like salmon is fine, especially if it is the Atlantic type and it is full of good fats, which are good for the baby's brain development.
However, pregnant women in the Middle Ages were not particularly concerned about mercury levels and nothing was known about how beneficial Omega-3 fats are for the development of the baby's brain. So they probably ate fish if they were not turned off by it while they were pregnant. However, they were forbidden to eat fish heads, not because there were any high levels of toxins or anything similar though. If a pregnant woman ate a fish head, that would have caused a baby to have a mouth that was more pointed than normal. Fish heads had to be avoided during pregnancy as a result.
9 The Deed Was Forbidden
Many pregnant women today are afraid to be intimate with their partners because of the possibility of causing a miscarriage or causing early labor. Actually, it has been proven that properties in little swimmers can cause labor, but it is still safe to do the deed while pregnant otherwise. The mucus plug is very thick and it seals the cervix earlier on during pregnancy. Labor can be triggered only when the mucus plug starts to shed.
However, women back in the Middle Ages were told not to be intimate not because of fear that it could cause a miscarriage or early labor, but because their lustful thoughts and actions could have permanent and severe effects on the unborn baby, such as causing it to be unchaste. That was enough to scare pregnant women off from having sex with their lovers because they did not want to scar their unborn babies like that. I am sure there were many instances when women did not have sex while they were pregnant and their kids ended up losing their virginities at a very young age anyway.
8 Had To Stay Away From Stinky Feet
Some pregnant women in the Middle Ages had to give into their need to do the deed even though they were warned not to because it would have such a negative effect on the fetus. However, if the urge was strong and they needed to be intimate with their lovers, then their loves had to make sure that their feet were not smelly.
Therefore, men had to wash their feet if they were going to be intimate with their pregnant lovers. Why? Because if pregnant women engaged with men that had stinky feet, they would risk causing a male fetus to have bad breath or a female fetus to have a smelly rear end. Therefore, they did not want to curse their unborn babies that way and wanted to make sure that they were free from embarrassment. So dad had to have clean feet before having a little bit of fun with mom while they were baking in the oven.
7 Must Indulge In The Craving
Every medieval doctor believed that pregnant women must always give in to their cravings, no matter how strange they may be and this is one thing that doctors today don't always follow. They were right and it was rare for these doctors in the Middle Ages to be right about many things.
But if a pregnant woman is having a strong craving for a certain food, then that meant that they needed it because it had a nutrient that they desperately needed. It was not known back then what kind of vitamins and minerals were around, and nothing was known about the benefits of folic acid back then. In fact, it wasn't all that long ago when pregnant women were told to take folic acid to reduce the risk of certain birth defects in the unborn baby.
However, medieval doctors stated that if pregnant women did not give in to their cravings, then their unborn babies would be missing vital organs or be born with birthmarks.
6 No Gas Allowed
Even though pregnant women were told to give in to their cravings, they still had to be careful with what they ate. If a certain food caused them to have diarrhea or gas then that was forbidden for them to eat.
Medieval doctors believed that if pregnant women had eaten foods that caused them to have flatulence, then all of that gas would suffocate the baby! At the same time, if pregnant women had consumed foods that could cause them to have the runs, then the runs could wash the baby away, which meant that it was believed that diarrhea could cause a miscarriage.
Even today if a pregnant woman has a lot of diarrhea in early pregnancy, it can be worrisome and a sign that a miscarriage may happen. But having the runs itself will not cause that to happen. Back then though, the beliefs were different due to lack of knowledge and technology.
5 Superstition And Prayer Were Medicine
It is a known fact that there were no such things as bloodwork, ultrasounds, genetic testing, and any other treatments for pregnant women that are used today during the medieval times. That is why there were a high number of pregnancy-related deaths; pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, hyperemesis gravidarum, gestational diabetes and so on always killed mom and baby during these times. Infant mortality rates were also astronomically high.
That is because the only medicine that pregnant women had to rely on was superstition and prayer. If pregnant women followed the rules like keeping away from rodents, frogs, cherry pits, stinky feet, sex and so on, then that is the kind of thing that they had to rely on in order to hope for a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and baby. They also prayed a lot for reassurance, which many people still do whether they are religious or not. However, think about it- during the Middle Ages, that is ALL that they had to help a pregnancy go well.
4 Had To Be Careful With Where They Looked
One of the other superstitions pregnant women had to rely on was being careful with where they looked while they were pregnant. This meant that if they looked towards somewhere with ugliness, or if they looked at an ugly person, then they would end up with an ugly baby. It was also more common to see decaying corpses on the streets during the Middle Ages. If they saw a dead body on the ground, then that would have been a very bad sign suggesting that their babies would die at birth!
This also meant that if pregnant women looked at animals, their babies would end up looking like animals as well. Therefore, these women had to look at beauty, whether it would be looking at nice scenery or good-looking people, so that their babies would be good looking as a result!
3 Must Wear Coral Necklaces And Keep A Magnet In The Right Hand
During the later stages of pregnancy, women were told to both wear coral necklaces as well as to keep a magnet in their right hands at all times. Why? Because both would help strengthen the womb and allow the woman to not give birth prematurely. If they wore that necklace of coral, it would also be good for the woman's spirit because it has been known for a long time that coral helps dispel panic, fear, sadness, and nervousness. Those who believe in the healing properties of stones and crystals also firmly believe even to this day that coral is a powerful and helpful stone for anyone who deals with any of that, regardless of the reason.
The magnet placed in the right hand specifically would help keep everything strong. However, the woman could not keep the magnet in her left hand because they believed at that time that the baby could be born left-handed and that meant it would be evil! No one wanted that to happen.
2 Sneezing Was Forbidden In Late Pregnancy
Under no circumstances could a pregnant woman sneeze during the later stages of pregnancy because sneezing would weaken the womb, and cause the spirit of the baby to leave, which meant either a death or a premature birth! That also meant that women back then had to do everything in their power to make sure that they did not catch any colds.
That meant they had to make aromatic poultices and to tie them under the nose to help reduce the risk of them catching colds, or catching any ailment that could cause them to sneeze. However, sneezing can happen for other reasons, even while healthy. What did these women do when they had to sneeze?
The only time when sneezing was permitted was during labor, as that is when the baby was meant to come out (obviously that part has not changed), and sneezing would help push the baby out and prevent any kind of deaths due to the baby getting stuck in the pelvis, which unfortunately happened often back then due to the lack of medical technology.
1 Can Only Be Around Women During Late Pregnancy
It is already known that male doctors were not permitted to treat pregnant women unless they had a minor issue like a cut on a finger. However, as the mom-to-be got closer to going into labor, she was not permitted to be around men at all.
If a man was around a woman who was going into labor, or if a man entered a room where the delivery was taking place, it was considered obscene. That means that men back in the Middle Ages never saw a woman give birth. In fact, in the late 1400s, a German doctor was sentenced to death when he was caught dressing like a woman to sneak into a delivery room.
As you can see, cultures have evolved and now there are many male obstetricians and some very good ones as well. And today, many dads have the honor of helping to cut the cord. Times sure have changed, just a bit!
Sources: Healthyway.com, Tudorsociety.com, Hubpages.com, Npr.org