If you trade birth stories with a friend, you may discover you had two completely different experiences. Some of us were delivered at an innovative and advanced hospital by way of a Caesarean Section, while others were born in the comforts of their home in a tub. The way we come into the world varies greatly across families, generations and cultures. In fact, having a baby in a modern hospital or birthing center is much different than it was even decades ago.
If you are interested to hear just how much labor and delivery has changed over the years—and what aspects of the event have stayed the same—take a trip through our guide to birthing experiences both then and now. We will explain how the delivery room has evolved since ancient times and which customs we’ve decided to keep as a society. While you will appreciate the updates to patient comfort and medicine, you may also find strength and inspiration from the women who have labored and delivered in the past!
The Ancient Delivery Room
Thousands of years ago, babies weren’t born in a delivery room at all. Instead, expecting mothers prepared for their child’s arrival at home—or in a hut belonging to the village midwife. In Ancient Greece, women would spend most of labor on a bed before moving to a crouching position. A birthing stool helped mom bring baby into the world faster. Africans and Indians of this time period also made use of birthing stools or chairs for pushing.
The Ancient Romans wore special amulets made of stones such as hematite in an effort to make delivery faster. They were also known to use herbs to help speed up labor. A midwife’s hands were the primary tools for repositioning the baby, while records of deep breathing practices for labor have been discovered in texts from as far back as 450 BC.
In antiquity, men were never present in the delivery room. Instead, women were surrounded by female relatives or the midwife’s helpers. Ritualistic baths helped to purify the baby, while blessings were given by the midwife or a local healer.
Labor and Delivery in the Early Modern Age
During the Renaissance period, delivery was risky for mother and child. Women often wrote their wills before labor started. Amulets were still worn in these days to help protect themselves from complications. Midwives also remained the primary caregivers, while so-called wet nurses arrived shortly after delivery to nurse the baby.
In the Tudor era, women clung tightly to religious icons. These images were thought to provide them with strength and favor during the birthing process. The pain of childbirth was accepted as punishment from Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. As a result, prayer was common throughout labor and delivery.
Delivery Rooms in the 18th and 19th Century
Colonial American women found strength in numbers. A typical birthing room may have contained up to 10 people, including female relatives, friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, complications like dehydration, infection and exhaustion were common. An experienced midwife was necessary. By this time, some families also had a doctor available. There were no painkillers, but midwives were known to administer alcohol. In 1794, the first successful Caesarean section was performed in the United States.
In the 1800s, chloroform arrived in the delivery room as an anesthetic and pain reliever. The majority of moms, however, decided to go drug-free. Labor was still seen as a necessary suffering delivered by God. Infections were still very common. In this century, puerperal fever, also known as childbed fever, reached epidemic proportions.
Having a Baby in the 20th Century
In the early 1900s, most women still gave birth at home. Wealthy families called upon a doctor to deliver the baby, but the majority of expectant mothers still had a midwife. As the century wore on, maternity hospitals became commonplace. Natural labor practices were replaced by medical interventions like the use of forceps during delivery and heavy doses of anesthesia to put the mother to sleep.
By the 1950s, women were well aware of the dangerous effects of anesthesia in the delivery room. They began protesting the practice in favor of a more natural birth. Despite the popularity of hypnosis, water immersion and the Lamaze method, however, epidurals and Pitocin were introduced into the delivery process by the 1970s.
The 1980s and 1990s were the foundation for today’s delivery experience. A small number of women began having babies at home or in a birthing center. Doctors also began collaborating with expecting mothers to create a customized birth plan.
If you’re currently expecting a baby, you have more safe and comfortable options for delivery than ever before. Most of today’s hospitals and birthing centers are state of the art. They are also entirely focused around the expecting mother’s health, happiness and convenience.
Moms-to-be are free to choose where they have their child, provided they don’t have any health problems. Even the most advanced hospital is now designing labor and delivery rooms to look like luxury bedrooms. Landscape paintings cover bulky oxygen tanks and epidural equipment, while large tubs and wide paddle ceiling fans help women relax into the experience.
Expecting mothers can hand pick an OB-GYN or certified midwife and then work in partnership with them to create a birth plan that is right for them. Choices include a natural or medicated birth, the ability to wear a hospital gown or one’s own clothes and the freedom to eat before active labor or welcome in multiple family members. Personalizing the room is encouraged. Moms-to-be can play their favorite music, display family photos or hang their baby’s first outfit near the delivery bed for inspiration.
** This is a collaborative post **