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Pregnancy 50 Years Ago: 10 Things That Changed (And 10 Things That Still Haven't)

Fifty years ago, the world was very different. The world was in the midst of a big cultural change, but it was still nothing like the digital age. Everything from the fashion to the medical technology to the social norms and even the slang was different back in 1968 — and that includes what happened when women were having babies.

This generation's grandparents didn't know as much about how to keep the baby as safe as possible during pregnancy, so they are always telling pregnant women that they shouldn't worry so much about what they eat and drink. Most women aren't surprised to learn that moms-to-be in 1968 didn't have ultrasounds, but they might be surprised to know what their pregnancy tests were like.

1968 was a pivotal year in terms of history. It was a huge turning point in pop culture and society in more ways than one. But in the end it is still amazing to realize how much things are still the same in terms of how babies are born. Here are 10 things that changed involving pregnancy during the past 50 years and 10 things that still haven't.

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20 Different: Help becoming pregnant wasn't Available

First of all, getting pregnant could be a different experience. Well, of course, the old missionary position worked just as well 50 years ago as it does today for many couples, but if a woman was struggling to conceive, there weren't any options to help out. By the late 1960s doctors hadn't really figured out how to help women have babies, so they just didn't have babies.

The first babies born using IVF turn 40 this year, so it was a good 10 years later before there was much of a chance for a woman who was struggling to have a baby.

These days, there are a lot of fertility options that can help, so that is an amazing breakthrough over the past five decades.

19 Different: Home Pregnancy Tests didn't exist yet

It's hard to imagine, but 50 years ago, women couldn't go to the pharmacy and buy a pregnancy test. They had to keep track of their cycle and symptoms and eventually head to the doctor's office to get confirmation if they were having a baby. It's not like today, when you can drive to the local grocery store to get a home test and go on a stick to find out within a couple of weeks of conception.

Before pregnancy tests were created, doctors would take a sample of urine and give it to a rabbit — yes, a live rabbit. They would test the rabbit and they could determine the hormone changes that way.

The first home pregnancy test was created in 1976 — it cost $10 and took two hours, and it was a lot more complicated than the tests of today.

It's definitely gotten easier to determine if there is a baby on board.

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18 Different: An Option For Those Who Don't Want A Baby

While we've already talked about moms who wanted a baby not having much help 50 years ago, the truth is there wasn't an option for women who didn't want to have a baby either. We're talking about the '60s when there were a lot of people exploring the free love movement, but birth control wasn't so advanced, so there were some children conceived who weren't planned.

In 1968, it wasn't an option — at least not legally. As we have heard, there were some practitioners who gave back-room abortions that could be deadly. The Roe vs. Wade ruling that made it legal happened in 1973, so now there are safe options available for women who don't want to have a baby.

17 Different: Mom's menu Wasn't An Issue

In 2018, when a mom-to-be goes to her doctor's office for her first prenatal exam, she is given a long list of what isn't safe to eat. But in 1968, she was on her own. Granted, you couldn't exactly find sushi at the supermarket back then, and if you were going to fix a sandwich, you needed to cook your own ham, but many grandmas these days can't help but laugh over the worry that moms these days go through every time they eat a meal.

Fifty years ago, mom's diet wasn't an issue.

Doctors weren't aware of the possibility of listeria and other illnesses that could affect the baby back then, so while they didn't have the worry, they also might not have the end result of a healthy baby.

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16 Different: Dressing The Baby Bump

Fashion in the 1960s had some pretty amazing trends. Bell-bottom jeans were all the rage, and it was really the first time that some women were allowed to try out pants at all. But not for pregnant women — back then, dressing the baby bump was very different than it is today.

A lot of women complain about maternity fashion these days, but there are a lot more trendy options to dress the baby bump.

Fifty years ago, though, women usually had to make their maternity clothes. They tended to basically be muumuus, since women didn't want to show off their shape. 

Now, women can embrace their bump, but that wasn't the case back in the day.

15 Different: Ultrasounds Weren't Around

Modern prenatal care includes a lot of doctor's appointments and at least one good look at the baby inside the womb through an ultrasound. The 20-week check uses technology that can help doctors figure out if the baby is developing OK and can check for issues with the placement of the placenta, the amniotic fluid and the umbilical cord. These days, moms can even get four-dimensional images that give an idea of the little one's sweet feature.

But 50 years ago, women and doctors didn't get the luxury of learning about birth defects and other issues ahead of time.

The first ultrasound was used in the 1950s in Europe, but it was well into the '70s before the technology was common practice in the United States.

Moms couldn't find out the baby's gender before the birth, and they didn't get to plan ahead for potential problems. The technology wasn't available at that point.

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14 Different: Certain Habits Weren't A Worry

We've already talked about how women in the 1960s didn't have dictates when it came to their diet, but that wasn't the only health issue that has changed dramatically in that time. One of the most notable is that women smoked during pregnancy.

Puffing was very much a part of the lifestyle back then for  a good majority of Americans. And even those that didn't smoke were exposed to it, since everything from restaurants to offices to the streets were filled with smokers. These days, doctors know that smoking is one of the most dangerous activities that women can engage in when they are pregnant. It isn't just bad for their own health, but it can lead to a number of severe birth defects. Smoking rates overall have changed drastically, and women who are pregnant are definitely urged to quit, but that's a big change from what happened 50 years ago.

13 Different: Doctors Decided The Birth Plan

Birth plans are a big deal for moms-to-be these days. While there are a lot of things that moms can't predict about labor and delivery, having a plan helps them feel like they have a handle on the situation, so many women work on their plan for months before the birth. They give their preferences on everything from medications to the music that plays during the birth.

But in 1968, doctors did all of the planning. C-section rates weren't a worry because moms didn't question whether they were necessary, and doctors told patients rather than asked them if they were going to perform interventions. We think that moms are more informed and empowered these days, but many moms didn't complain back then. It was just the way things were done.

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12 Different: Breastfeeding Wasn't Encouraged

In 2018, moms face a lot of pressure to breastfeed. Research has pointed to some amazing benefits for the health of the baby and the mother, so many moms face judgment if they struggle and choose to use formula for their little one. But there wasn't any pressure in 1968. In fact, 50 years ago, people thought that baby formula was the healthier option.

There were, of course, women who nursed their babies 50 years ago, but the truth is that most of them were poor.

Women who could afford formula usually gave it to their baby, and doctors didn't encourage nursing because they didn't know about the health benefits that made it worth the effort.

While we don't like the pressure and judgment that women face today, we are glad that more families benefit from nursing these days.

11 Different: Most Moms Stayed Home

A big issue for moms-to-be these days involves life at the office. From deciding the appropriate time to tell the boss, especially if a promotion is in play, to worrying about getting through the work day when you have morning sickness and later on planning projects when you don't know when you will go into labor, navigating a pregnancy at work can be tricky. But that wasn't an issue for most women in 1968.

There weren't very many women in the workplace in the 1960s, and those that did have a job often quit when they got married and certainly when they got pregnant.

While there are still maternity leave protections these days, there weren't any arrangements for a woman who went back to work in 1968. Working moms were rare, but those that did exist had a lot more struggles than those of today.

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10 Hasn't Changed: Love Revolution Then And Now

If we were talking about 1958, things would have probably been a lot different for women in terms of dads, but the truth is that in 1968, there was a free love movement that was going on that is sort of similar to the situation nowadays.

Just like then, there are a range of families these days. Some babies are born in loving marriages, but there are times that babies are born out of wedlock.

The big difference is that even in the 1960s a lot of the women who got pregnant in the free love generation faced a lot of judgment.

That certainly can happen today, but it isn't as bad as it once was, and that is a good thing.

9 Hasn't Changed: Same Pressure To have a baby

These days, as soon as a woman gets married, her friends and family start to ask her if she is pregnant. The pressure to conceive can be pretty hard on a woman, but that isn't anything new. It's been true for generations, including 50 years ago, when the role of a woman was more centered around being a wife and a mother.

In 2018, more women are waiting until later in life to have children, but that means that there can be even more pressure to beat the clock. In 1968, women were usually in their 20s when they married, although the cultural revolution started to change that. No matter when the pressure comes, it is hard to deal with, and that is as true today as it was 50 years ago.

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8 Hasn't Changed: No Cure For Morning Sickness

While research has revealed a lot about the things that moms can do to try to keep the fetus healthy during the first trimester, it hasn't done anything to hep women get through it without experiencing some unpleasant symptoms. Unfortunately, women still go through morning sickness.

The first trimester can be pretty terrible for women, and while some women are able to control their nausea with snacks and ginger ale, others suffer for months. In 2018, even a princess has to be hospitalized because doctors are no closer to a cure for morning sickness.

7 Hasn't Changed: Old Wives' Tales Still Prevalent

With a lack of medical answers, people started to give some anecdotal responses to things that they couldn't explain. They were called old wives' tales and they date back generations. They were passed down from mother to daughter and so on, and the truth is that the same stories that are told today were often the ones that were told 50 years ago.

In 1968, women heard that if they had heartburn the baby would have a lot of hair, just like they hear that today. There were little tests and tricks to point toward the baby's sex, but those are as untrue today as they were then. It can be fun to carry on an old wives' tale, even if research has shown us by now that they just aren't true. We'll probably still be telling them in 50 years.

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6 Haven't Changed: New Moms Showered With Blessings

Times have changed, but there are still a lot of traditions for pregnant women. One of our favorites is the baby shower. It's an occasion that women have celebrated for a few generations. At times people have simply gifted hand-me-downs, but there is no shame in that. Today people can have some pretty extensive registries, but the most important is celebrating the baby.

Baby showers began as a tradition around World War II, and these days there is an additional party that people have added on to the prenatal to-do list. Gender reveal parties were definitely not on the agenda in 1968, especially since parents had no way to learn if they were having a boy or a girl. But it's still nice to be showered with blessings, just like women were 50 years ago.

5 Hasn't Changed: Same Worry About Appearance

Pregnancy has always been a time when body changes happen, and unfortunately, many women have trouble with their weight and appearance as they go through those nine months. It's a universal truth that happened in the 1960s and continues to be an issue for women today.

There are differences, of course. Back in 1968, many women were traditional and felt the need to keep up appearances for their husband, although things were starting to be different in those days. The body positive movement of today is helping some women to accept their shape, but when it changes daily with a baby on board, there is still pressure and a lot of anxiety over how a woman looks. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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4 Hasn't Changed: Similar Embarrassing Situations

Vintage image of mother with baby

As we've already mentioned, women have to go through the same pregnancy symptoms in 2018 that they had to go through in 1968. There aren't any more answers to going through the embarrassment of belching and leaking these days as there were in the past.

One thing that is different is that less women were in the workplace those days, so women weren't expected to look professional while trying to race to the restroom because of their bladder. If a mom knew she would suffer morning sickness until 11 a.m., she could stay home and wouldn't have to deal with public embarrassment, and many women just hid out as much as they could the last month or so. But they still ended up in situations that were a embarrassing. Plus, people were a little less forgiving about things in those days, so the pressure was really on.

3 Hasn't Changed: Same Complications Can Come Up

Just as women still face the same pregnancy symptoms, they also face the same complications during those nine months, plus labor and delivery. Even with modern medicine, women still get gestational diabetes — in fact, they get the condition at higher rates, probably because of the increase in obesity rates in the U.S. They still develop preeclampsia and have postpartum hemorrhage. The dangers still exist.

We'd like to tell you that doctors have figured out how to save mothers and babies, but the truth is that there are tragedies that happen every day. Women still suffer miscarriages and stillbirth, and sometimes the baby is born with a serious health condition. Maternal passing still happens — in recent years, the number has been on the rise, despite the advances of modern medicine. Fifty years later, things can still go wrong.

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2 Hasn't Changed: Still Have To Push Or Have Surgery

In the end of pregnancy, a mom has to give birth, and it's not any more pleasant than it was 50 years ago. Pain relief medications were discovered at the turn of the century, and epidurals date back to the 1940s, although they did not gain as much momentum until the 1970s.

These days, many women choose natural childbirth, so the situation is probably pretty similar to what it was in the late '60s. Women either have to push or they have to have surgery. Neither are easy options and both have their risks and rewards. Giving birth is just as tenuous and scary as it was 50 years ago, unfortunately.

1 Hasn't Changed: Just As Much Worry

There is something that has been true about mothers and mothers-to-be for centuries — moms feel an incredible love and responsibility for their children. And that means that pregnancy is just as fraught with worry these days as it was 50 years ago.

As we've already mentioned, despite all of the medical breakthroughs over the last five decades, pregnant women still face a lot of hurdles. There is the possibility that they could lose the baby through miscarriage, and even though doctors have figured out some ways to lower the risk of certain birth defects, they haven't been able to stop them entirely. Complications can make life tough for a baby and mommy, and because all they want is a healthy baby, moms still feel a lot of pressure and anxiety as they go through pregnancy and childbirth. This isn't likely to change — moms worry, no matter the generation.

References: The Bump, Today's Parent, Live Science

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