When we sat in our history classes throughout middle and high school, many of us were more aware of the Industrial Revolution rather than the home lives of the families who lived through it. Not many people study the history of childbirth but those who do, know how painful of an ordeal it was. Childbirth through the early 1900s was not safe and it wasn't as joyous an occasion as it is now, and there were definitely some practices that added to mom's stress rather than eliminating it.
Giving birth 100 years ago meant that a woman was putting her own life at risk as well as unintentionally risking the life of her baby. The medical practices were far from safe or sanitary and nine months of waiting was the least of a mom-to-be's concerns. Pain management was not a common notion and was only offered to those who could afford it, that is if women chose to have their babies in a hospital setting at all. Those who chose a home birth faced no other choice but to go in alone or turn to a midwife -- a woman who was not much more knowledgable than most doctors at that time.
The extreme journey from experimental medical practices up to the safe and routine labors society is familiar with today are vastly different and they make today's moms appreciate what they have. After all, any day that women don't need to wear a corset while pregnant is a good one, right?
20 Home Births With Or Without A Midwife
Obviously, medical practices were not yet honed in the early 1900s. Doctors were still a relatively new concept and many "medical" beliefs were loosely based off science, and fully rooted in religion or superstition. This made labour much more of a risky medical issue than what it is today since there were no cures, solutions, or perfected surgeries.
More often than not, it was surprising when a birth went off without a hitch. Midwives were just beginning to gain popularity but still did not become the answer to that which many were unfamiliar with. It was a tough situation, one that usually took place at home, as hospitals were deemed to be inferior and infectious.
19 Anesthesia Was Not Available
When we talk about "natural" childbirth, many times we mean a new mom who has decided to forgo certain types of pain medication or a mom who is choosing a natural birth over a c-section. "Natural" back in the day was the only type of birth there was, however; anesthesia was not an option for pregnancy until several years later.
Therefore, women had to go through the extremes of labour without a buffer, which often meant a hysteria of sorts. When anesthesia became available years later, it came with its own risks and complications, all of which would be deemed inhumane today.
18 Doctors Did Not Go Through Medical School
That's right -- Believe it or not, doctors were not required to have certification or vast medical experience in order to deliver a baby.
Many times, new mothers had no choice but to decide on a doctor with little to no experience at all. Research in the early 1900s was not nearly as proficient as it is now, meaning many of the body's functions went unexplained, including labour. Doctors were aware that a baby needed to come out, that it was a painful process, and that was about it.
A pregnant woman in the 1900s was lucky enough to be assigned a doctor or midwife at all.
17 Waiting For Dilation Wasn't An Option
As previously stated, doctors knew very little of how a woman's contractions -- and childbirth as a whole -- worked. This meant that as soon as a woman's water broke, the first inclination was to birth their baby in any way possible.
There was no understanding of waiting until a woman's cervix was dilated, meaning doctors went in hands first to attempt to speed up labour. There was no concept of a baby's still-developing head or ligaments, and many times doctors did more harm than good. Medical tools were not perfected at that time, either, so there was really no safe way to go about doing this.
16 New Moms Would Stay In The Hospital For A Week
Hospitals were initially seen as homes for infection during the early 1900s. As the years went on, more mothers would resort to hospital births as doctors became more commonly known. In the event that a new mom had her child in the hospital, should the pregnancy be successful, it was not uncommon for her to remain there for a significant amount of time.
Many moms would have week-long hospital stays, which was excellent news for her, but rough for the family at home who was left with the task of functioning without her. Moms would have a week off from their maternal and wifely duties in order to recover and recoup before going back home.
15 No Sanitary Practice Between Patients
It's a worrisome thought, but just as everything else roughly 100 years ago, science was still a relatively new concept. Medical practices were still exploratory and without the advances that we have today, there was no way of knowing what caused what.
Infection was no stranger to this issue, as it was not uncommon for a doctor to go from the morgue to a delivery room... without using sanitary method whatsoever. Yuck! This obviously causes significant complications and was a happenstance of lacking common sense, in addition to the fact that people were just unaware.
14 "Training" Was Hit Or Miss For New Doctors
It's easy enough to assume that doctors had very, very little training as far as childbirth was concerned. It would not be uncommon for a new doctor to be thrown into a room with a woman in labour, thus left to rely on his instinct... which, obviously, was non-existent.
Gynecologists and labour and delivery nurses were not what they are today. Training did not exist for those who chose to work in a hospital and if a doctor was attending a home birth, there was no formal training to prepare him for what lied ahead. You can give someone the tools but without proper training, they're relatively useless, as many doctors found out.
13 Women Still Wore Corsets Up Until 1912
Not much was known about pregnancy health other than the basics. Surprisingly, it was noted amongst the general public that women should get at least two hours of outdoor time, but for the sake of "fresh air" rather than vitamin D. Additionally, many thought that women should get a decent amount of exercise weekly, despite their pregnancy or how far along they were.
While these two notions are not too far off from what we practice today, it took a few more years for women to finally realize that wearing a corset was probably not the most logical course of action while pregnant. Pregnancy corsets were indeed an option, but eventually, it was decided that avoiding them altogether was much safer... Duh.
12 "Eating For Two" Was Considered A Myth
While it's somewhat laughable that "eating for two" was considered "debunked" in the early 19th century, it was sadly a fact. Women still highly valued their appearance and would rarely leave the house toward the end of pregnancy or pose for photos.
This ideology is probably what factored into the belief that women should not eat any differently than they would should they not be pregnant, which was obviously problematic. There were no blood tests to determine deficiencies during those early years, so women were left to play a guessing game with their own health. Any guidelines they had were based on pure common sense or what was perceived to be the truth.
11 Labor Medication Was Only For Those Who Could Pay For It
Sadly, when pain management finally did become an option -- if you could refer to it like that -- it was costly. The early 19th-century form of anesthesia was expensive and not considered something that was necessary in order to give birth. Therefore, labour was still a very painful and tiresome process for many women who could not afford a form of relief.
For those who could afford it, the medication was still extremely risky and there was no guarantee that they could function while taking it. For a number of years, it was a lose-lose situation for those who could afford it and for those who couldn't.
10 There Were No Rules About Eating Right Before Labor
While going into labour is somewhat restrictive now as many moms are relegated to ice chips and nothing else, in the early 1900s, there were no hard and fast rules. This goes back to the fact that not much was known about labour or what it entailed, meaning that doctors had no idea what a full stomach would do for moms giving birth.
It was trial and error, learn-as-you-go type of practice, one during which many women would soon learn about as well. Specific labour precautions wouldn't come around until much further down the line after many more home and hospital births.
9 Twilight Sleep Was Perfectly Legal
This combination was a nearly fatal mix of medications that would be illegal today. The problem with administering this type of pain management is that it was dangerous from the get-go; not only were women unconscious, but they would hardly have any memory of their pregnancy.
Additionally, this would render problems during labour, as mom had very little control or awareness of what they were meant to be doing. Twilight sleep was a viable method for some women, but it was not nearly foolproof, practical, or ever deemed a legitimate method for universal pain management. It served as the very basis for advanced pain management techniques and went out of use with the introduction of other methods.
8 Forceps Were Very Much A Common Tool
Are you cringing yet? Just hearing the term "forceps" is enough to make many women turn their nose up in disgust, but in the early 19th century, these were in the hands of most doctors.
During labour, especially due to the lack of help that twilight sleep gave, doctors had no choice but to use forceps to help deliver a baby. This was especially problematic since forceps themselves are quite archaic and not gentle in the slightest. If a baby was breached or facing the wrong way, forceps were utterly useless during labour and left doctors with little else to try during delivery.
7 Being Pregnant Was Scary Rather Than Exciting
There were no "delivery rooms" as we know them today back in the early 1900s. Roughly 100 years ago, women delivered their babies in a plain, old medical procedure room, which was cold, uninviting, and quite nerve-wracking.
Combined with the fact that doctors had little to no idea what they were doing, labour was not as exciting as it is today. There were no padded beds, no sanitary (or even useful) medical tools, and the person delivering your baby wouldn't have had much more experience than you did while you went through contraction after contraction. Nurses were some help, but there was just not enough known to have a high success rate.
6 Young Children Were Not Allowed Near Their Pregnant Mothers
Surprisingly, the success rate of pregnancies in the early 1900s was so low that many times, children would not even be told that their mothers were pregnant. Interestingly enough, it would be kept a secret until a parent had good news to deliver.
When a woman's anticipated due date was arriving, children would often be sent to stay with extended family or friends. This act of getting them out of the house was in an effort to prevent them from being subjected to the often painful (and very auditory) process of labour. Additionally, children would not be told that their mother was pregnant until they came home to find another sibling in their home.
5 It Was A Common Practice To Avoid Getting Pregnant
That's right! By the early 19th century, the size of the average family was nearly cut in half. Those who came from families of eight siblings found themselves making families of four or less. This wasn't due to the fact that people didn't want to be parents; it was due to the fact that pregnancy was just not what it once was.
As the world was changing, so was the methodology and medical practice behind labour. Success rates were not high and if a family already had children, it was not uncommon for them to avoid adding any more in an effort to prevent a high-risk situation for both mom and baby.
4 Midwives Had No Training Other Than Their Own Childbirth
Doctors were not the only ones who were inexperienced. The only reason that midwives could be considered slightly more knowledgeable about the idea of childbirth was due to the fact that they may have had their own children.
Whether or not giving birth qualifies someone enough to direct another woman on how to give birth is questionable nowadays, but this was all that existed in the early 1900s. Women helped other women, and it was likely more of a comfort to have another mom around rather than it was technically appropriate. Midwives were usually the attendees for home births, making them valuable for new moms.
3 Nothing Was Done To Help Deformities Or Labor Complications
Not every story is a happy one and many times moms would go into a hospital or give birth at home, and complications would arise. Whether it was something that happened throughout the nine months or just a misfortune of unsuccessful labour, doctors were helpless to aid these babies.
Medicine was not advanced enough to attend to complications such as these and while braces or splints could be used for minor deformities, severe issues went untreated. Today, doctors, nurses, and entire hospital departments are devoted to helping these issues as soon as they arise. If modern medicine wasn't appreciated then, it certainly is now.
2 The Husband Prepared Himself For The Worst
In addition to shuffling the kids out of the house, a woman's husband would also be mentally preparing himself for what lied ahead. There was sadly no guarantee that a woman would make it through labour or that her baby would. A man had to be prepared to tackle the worst, whether that outcome be successful or he becomes widowed or childless.
Preparing oneself for this potential loss was something that was anticipated when a woman became pregnant, as it was no secret that medicine was not advanced enough to handle any significant complications. This was not always the case, but it was inevitably on the back of everyone's minds.
1 Women With Successful Births Were Celebrated
On the flip side, women who had successful births were highly celebrated. Bringing a child into the world despite the inexperience of doctors, lack of medical technology, and oftentimes zero pain management was a proud feat. Women would not only be celebrated within their community, but they would be celebrated by the church specifically.
A unique Thanksgiving service was devoted to the strong moms who made it through labour with little to no problems. Thanks were given for the new life they'd brought into the world and a family would be congratulated on their success. Not all pregnancies ended in heartache and those that didn't were appropriately recognized.