19 Ways Labor (And The Delivery Room) Were Different 50 Years Ago

Oh, how times are changing! The world that women knew a mere fifty years ago is nearly unrecognizable to the women of today. Their roles, expectations, appearances, and demands have all shifted in a direction that is far more equal and fem-centric compared to the world of their mothers and grandmothers.

Modern women in the home, the workplace, and politics look vastly unique when compared with females of yesteryear. Childbirth, delivery and the general offspring rearing is merely one example of how the world is changing around us. Many of today's mommas might not even choose to become mothers if they suddenly had to shift back to what the world had to offer women five decades ago.

I can't say that I would be signing up to go through the business of childbirth if suddenly I was exposed to a Twilight birth or was in jeopardy of losing my job just because I was having a baby. Our pioneer parents must look at women today and their birthing experiences and marvel at the technologies and comforts that they are afforded because they are becoming mothers. Here are 20 ways that labor and delivery looked remarkably different fifty years ago.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

19 Delivery Was A Lonely Business

These days fathers are just as much a part of the childbirth experience as their laboring partners are. They are right there in the delivery room, the surgical room and sometimes even sitting with their delivering lady in the birthing tub! No one bats an eye over the co-birthing experience now, but their jaws would have dropped to the ground fifty years ago over the male participation norms we see today. Back in the fifties and sixties, dad sat out in the waiting room until his baby was born and both mother and child were nice and cleaned up. He was spared all the details.

18 You Might Not Even Remember The Delivery

The trend in childbirth and delivery these days is the more present, the better. Women want to experience it all, without the haze and mess that mommies-to-be often felt while they were bringing kids into the world. In the 1950's and 1960's, it was not unusual for the delivering doctors to give his patient enough medication that she didn't have a clue what was even going on. Essentially mom was knocked out for the labor, as we would be with the extraction of a wisdom tooth in today's times. Moms don't get put out on the delivery bed these days, although sometimes they might beg to be!

17 Help Was Typically Waiting Back At Home

via npr.com

After mom and baby spent their week recuperating at the hospital post birth, they often returned to the family home and a boatload of family waiting to lend a hand. In American culture, this doesn't happen as often as it did decades ago when it was the norm for the mother and or mother-in-law of the new parents to hunker down and take over the household duties for a spell. Other cultures around the world continue to install immediate family into the birthing recover period, but Americans have somewhat moved away from the practice, craving nuclear family privacy.

16 Breastfeeding Wasn't all The Rage

Moms these days hear all about how breastfeeding is best, and if you aren't a walking, talking milk machine, then you are doing your due diligence as a new mommy. Thankfully the whole mom-shaming over milk is starting to fade and take a backseat to "Fed is best." While we know that breastmilk is some seriously powerful stuff, making sure your baby eats period will always take precedence over HOW they eat. In the 50's and 60's breastfeeding had a bad wrap. It wasn't thought to be "in fashion." Formula feeding was perfectly acceptable and common in the mid-century era.

15 Labor Was Actually Much Shorter

While not a whole lot regarding childbearing in the "olden days" seems very appealing to us new-age mothers, the shortened deliveries do sound like a winner. Moms of the 1950's and 1960's had shorter labors on average. Because there weren't inductions and epidurals flying around, labors didn't become slowed, stalled and halted, thus creating a faster childbirth experience for mothers. So how much shorter are we talking here? Today's laboring ladies average 6.5 hours while moms of yesteryear averaged about 4 hours or pain and grief, according to one study out of Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City that looked at nearly 140,000 births from two distinct time periods.

14 Mom's Job Wasn't Guaranteed To Be There After Delivery

via therepublicofless.wordpress.com

Back in 1950, roughly one in three women were part of the workforce. In 1998 that number jumped to 3 in 5 women over the age of 16. During the middle part of the 1900's, it was most common for women to marry and then cease working once motherhood hit. Their primary role was seen as caretaker and homemaker. These days females are equals in the workforce and have little issue returning to work after their baby is born and the recovery period ends. Fifty years ago though, it was a completely different story. A woman's job was not guaranteed after she became a mother.

13 Technologically Left In The Dark

via pinterest.com

During nine months of pregnancy, so many different tests and assessments can be done to determine the health of both the baby and the mother. Women can now know if they are about to become a parent an entire week before their cycle is due to arrive. Many decades ago the only way to know that a baby was on the way was a missed cycle or two. Once pregnancy is confirmed a slew of tests can now be performed in the first trimester and a comprehensive ultrasound is typically done in the second trimester. Once a woman gets closer to the finish line, her doctor can monitor fetal movement and health until the baby makes its way into the world. This technology wasn't readily available in the 1950's.

12 Women Fifty Years Ago Were Becoming Mothers Earlier On

These days American women are waiting longer than ever to become first-time mothers. Back in 1950, the average age of motherhood struck somewhere around age 22 or 23. These days, motherhood is starting years past that young age as women are putting career and personal goals and aspirations before starting a family and "settling down." No longer is "motherhood" synonymous with "homebound with five children who came one after the other" or "perpetually barefoot and pregnant until nature puts a stop to things." Women (and their doting and supportive men) have figured out that putting parenthood off for a few more years hurts nothing.

11 Babies Were Usually Born Smaller

via whaleoil.co.nz

When experts take a look at infants born in the 1950's and 1960's, they notice some striking differences in babies and their mothers. One thing that they observed was mothers in today's modern age have a higher body mass compared to the petit ladies of the 1950's. Infants are also larger in mass. Babies born in recent years are roughly four ounces heavier on average when compared to babies born half a century before. Let's hope this trend doesn't continue for years to come, or women one hundred years from now are going to have a massive task at when it comes to childbirth!

10 Spontaneous Labor Was The Norm

Half a century ago, babies came when they came. The idea of induction wasn't a common thing, and mothers easily went into the overdue period armed with only old wives tales to promote labor. Castor oil was one of the things that mothers past their pregnancy prime turned to in hopes that the yucky stuff would force the baby out lickity split. Overdue women might have also turned to begging their hubbies for a bumpy car ride down a dirt road to bring on labor pains. These days Pitocin can be administered via IV drip and labor can get rolling at the snap of a doctor's fingers.

9 Surgical Delivery Was The Exception, Not The Norm

via faithgibson.org

Fifty years ago, the majority of laboring women still ended up giving birth the good old fashion way. Anything other than the "intended" means of delivery was considered an absolute last option for mothers and their babies. The 1950's were somewhat of a turning point in the history of c-sections however. Crude ultrasounds were in initial stages, and while they didn't disclose gender, doctors could roughly guess if perhaps fetal problems warranted an unorthodox delivery to be done. C-section in the 50's would have resulted in a whole lot of pain and a suggestion that new mothers stay put as much as possible, which is a striking difference to modern medical advice that asks women to get up and move around asap.

8 Receiving Meds During Labour Wasn't A Given

Today epidurals are an absolute God-send when it comes to pain and labor. Women can receive them while delivery is in progress and virtually feel nothing as they bring their children into the world. Grandmothers everywhere are a bit jaded over this medical development; they had none of the good stuff. While epidurals came about at the beginning of the 1900's, they didn't become a common (and safe) practice to include in the childbirth experience until the 1970's. Mothers in the 50's would not have benefitted from this pain-free option while giving birth. Moms in this mid-century decade were far more likey to "grin and bear" their labor and delivery.

7 Twilight Sleep Was An Option

Us modern mamas find ourselves thanking the birthing Gods from above, (and medical professionals everywhere,) that the Twilight sleep approach to childbirth is now ancient history. Twilight Sleep, or Dammerschlaf, as it was called by German doctors who used it in their clinic, was a drug, comprised of morphine and scopolamine, that provided pain relief and virtually erased the memory of birth altogether. It had its moment in the delivery room, but no staying power considering the side effects that accompanied the delusional and sometimes unstable state of laboring ladies. Eventually, Twilight sleep was considered far too risky for women to undergo.

6 Forceps Were Used To Extract The Baby

Not all babies slide on out into the world with the greatest of ease. Some little ones get pretty cozy and comfy while they grow in mom's womb and when it's time to be evicted, they don't seem to want to budge. Enter creep salad tongs. Forceps were often used to extract a baby from the woman's body, but they didn't come without risks of their own. Improper usage of forceps can result in complications. The rise of cesarean sections and a fetal vacuum has mostly pushed metal forceps out of the birthing picture, although they are still used to this day when necessary.

5 They Encouraged The Baby To "Cry It Out"

Fact: All babies cry. Also a fact: Babies cry for specific and particular reasons, not solely to scramble your exhausted mommy brain and make you question your life choices. Today we know that new babies, younger than six months of age, cry because they need something. Young infants are counting on you to meet whatever demands they desire, so your grandmother's theory of "letting the baby cry, so they don't become spoiled," no longer holds up in court. At the turn of the century, however, this "cry it out" concept was widely accepted by many mothers who believed that infants needed to scream so that they learned to sooth and so that they strengthened their lungs. Now we know that a newborn cry signals to parents that something is amiss and we need to figure out what it is and deal with it.

4 Adult Beverages Were Encouraged

Around the 1970's, the effects of drinking on an unborn baby came to light in the medical community. Boozing while baking a bun in the oven became an absolute no-no. Pregnant women were suddenly discouraged from partaking in any alcoholic beverages so that the alcohol didn't cross the placenta and affect their unborn children. Prior to this though, a couple of drinks by a pregnant woman was no cause for concern. In fact, some doctors encouraged the consumption of alcohol to help slow down early labor or relax a tense mother. Aside from drinking, moms to be also smoked cigarettes openly. No one knew that was a giant "nope" either.

3 The Terminology Was Different

via triplep-parenting.com

Today we have about a million different endearing and creative terms for a pregnant woman. Fifty years ago the possibilities regarding terminology for an expecting woman was much slimmer. It was considered completely taboo to call a woman "pregnant" to her face or out in public. Referring to her being "in a family way" or "expecting" might be more common. In fact, not mentioning a pregnancy at all wasn't out of the ordinary. When Lucille Ball made her pregnancy debut appearance on television in 1952, using the words "pregnancy" was considered to be too out there and brazen for viewers.

2 Hospital Stays Were Much Longer

via kaiserpermanentehistory.org

For women who are birthing babies in the modern era, it is typical to earn a 48-hour stay in a hospital following the birth of your child, if you deliver the "natural" way. If you happen to require surgical intervention to bring your beautiful baby into the world, then you might be staying at Hotel La Hospital for 96 hours, assuming all is healing up well. Cesareans are major surgical procedures after all. Fifty years ago it was not uncommon for mommies to spend the better part of a week laid up in a hospital bed recovering, following the birth of their child.

1 Hospital Births Were So Much Cheaper

Today a hospital birth costs roughly 3,500 dollars a day! Throw in the delivery, the medications, tests, procedures and possible surgery and you are looking at a crazy expensive bill just to deliver your child! Back in the 1950's, it was far cheaper to become a parent. Staying in the hospital would have cost you forty dollars, and the other fixings still would have put a family back one hundred dollars, if that! Of all of the changes that have taken place regarding pregnancy and childbirth over the past half-century, this might be the most staggering difference in a 1950's delivery and a modern delivery.

Resources: babble.com, npr.com, mothering.com, takingcharge.csh.umn.edu, babycenter.com

More in Did You Know...