Jul 09, 2015

The Twentieth Century was a time of tremendous medical advancements. However, when it came to childbirth we hit a few bumps in the road. As a society we moved to remove midwifery practices only to slowly return to them as we learned that women have a voice and a choice when it comes to their birthing experience. Here are five practices from our age of regression that we are thankful to be done away with. 

1. Breastfeeding was Discouraged

Pictured Above: Photography of Florence Owens Thompson, known as "Migrant Mother", Pea-Pickers Camp, Nipomo, California (1936)

It was common practice in the to bind a woman's chest after childbirth to prevent engorgement and to give her a pill to dry up her milk supply. 

According to the Journal of Perinatal Education,  Medical “experts,” formula makers in the 1930s, and women's magazines whose editors were men told women women that their own milk was inferior to anything that science and technology could produce.  This perpetuated the belief that only “ignorant” and “lower-class” women breastfed their babies. Though education has gotten better and practices aren't as blatant, marketing practices of formula companies and social stigmas still affect the successful breastfeeding rates in our country today.  

2. Twilight Sleep

From 1914 until the natural birth movement of the 1970s, many women didn’t even recall the birthing experience. They were sedated and their babies delivered without any input from the patient. In the beginning (1914) the "twilight sleep" was chloroform and it didn't necessarily diminish the pain it merely incapacitated the woman when women were restrained in their beds and berated for crying out. By the 1930s and 40s "twilight sleep" progressed to an injection of Morphine and other sedatives and women didn't recall childbirth at all. By the 1980s obstetrics progressed to the point of helping women be more comfortable in childbirth while valuing their input and life experience. 

 3. Shaving and Enemas 

It's crossed every pregnant person's mind. That embarrassing thought of What if I poop on the table? It's not the most pleasant thought but I'd take that over an enema while in labor any day. The practice of administering an enema was more for the convenience of the medical staff than it was for the woman in labor. Plus before infections were clearly understood the contamination from poo was a real concern. In the early 1900s cervical checks were considered to increase the risk of infection. Therefore nurses would attempt to check the progression of labor with rectal checks. 

Shaving was practiced as part of the scrubbing and sterilization prep of the woman's genitals to again help prevent infection. We know now that hair is actually the body's first line of defense against infections. Also, if a women needed an episiotomy suturing was cleaner and easier if the woman had already been shaved. 

4. No Dads Allowed

Men and other support people were banished to traditional waiting rooms to nervously wait for their babies to be born. We know today that the support and encouragement from someone you love is an important part of coping through childbirth. 

 

5. Mom and Baby were Separated

Babies were removed and cared for in the nursery. Now, we are grateful for a supportive environment where baby and dad can spend the night next to mom during her hospital stay. Kangaroo Care is encouraged and breastfeeding can be established with the support of a lactation consultant. Slowly but surely we are regaining the womanly support that was almost lost in 20th Century birthing practices. 

Sources:

http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/128_migm.html
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595162/
http://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/31/books/labor-dispute.html
http://www.quora.com/What-was-it-like-to-give-birth-in-the-1960s

 Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a writer and mother of two and expecting her third. If you liked this posting please follow her on Twitter @writerbonnie or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WriterBonnie for more great info on Raising Kids. 

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