Friday, 17 September 2010

Birthing positions in medieval times

Welcome to smnet readers - oh for a resource like smnet when I was a student midwife. Mind you, we barely had colour TV then. Anyway, I hope you find it of some use and interest, your comments and participation are always welcome.  

Lying in a bed is probably the most unnatural way of all to give birth. Up till the last few hundred years (when operative interventions became more common) birthing chairs were often used  - even now, modern equivalents are available. Birthing chairs encouraged a physiologically more normal position for the labouring woman, and also allowed her bed (often a straw mattress) to remain clean. Well, sort of clean - apart from bedbugs, fleas and of course the odd chicken dropping.

This illustration is taken from The Rosengarten (roughly translated as The Rosegarden for Pregnant Women and Midwives), written by Eucharius Rosslin, a German physician. He wrote the book in the early 1500s specifically for midwives, in an effort to improve their practice. I've used the illustration for the cover of Midwyf.

He instructs that a chair should be made so that the mother might recline in it. The chair should be padded with cloths, he says, and the mother covered. At the right time, the covering should be removed and the mother turned from one side to the other. The midwife is to sit in front of the chair and pay careful attention to how the mother is moving, controlling her legs with her hands previously coated with, for example, white lily oil, or almond oil. The midwife must encourage the mother with gentle words, exorting her to breathe deeply, and ensuring she takes nourishing food and drink, and massaging lightly just above the mother’s navel towards the hips. Last, but not least, Rosslin says, she should comfort the mother with the happy prospect of birthing a boy.

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