Baby Delivery - Modern Childbirth Versus 1800 Century Methods

Baby delivery and childbirth is challenging. The process hasn't gotten easier over thousands of years from the time of ancient women, to women in the 1800s, to the modern woman. For proof, all you need to do is talk to honest women who have had a baby, or watch one of the many child delivery videos or child delivery pictures available online or in print. While labor duration can vary from many hours to just a few, the consensus about the event is the same. It's painful and hard work. And the progression of medical technology hasn't changed this, as can be seen from live child delivery videos often shown in birth-preparation classes.  Modern medicine can help dull the pain though.

Managing Labor Pain Medically

In ancient times women used breathing techniques and herbs to help manage the pain of child birth delivery. Women seemed to take the idea of labor pain in stride and thought of it as a natural occurrence in life. In some cultures the perception of labor was that the baby had to fight his way out of the womb and labor pains were simply the natural reaction of this process. Birthing was seen as a spiritual experience in some cultures and was never the man's domain in ancient times. Men didn't become more involved in the birthing process until the 1800s.

In Medieval times right through the 17th century the perception of labor pain was that it was women's punishment for Eve's sin and had to be endured. Still, there were pregnant women or female relatives of the pregnant women who used herbs and amulets as a way to manage the pain of childbirth. Sometimes there were appeals to saints, the Virgin Mary or St. Margaret if the pain became very intense. Birthing was still mainly a woman's domain and midwives attended most births and some midwives used special "birthing bags" (often a combination of herbs and religious amulets) that were meant to help a woman handle childbirth, survive the ordeal and have a healthy baby that would grow to meet all the child development milestones we know of today.

By the 1800s the perception of childbirth as a scientific or medical procedure became common. Doctors, who at time were predominantly men, became to chosen caregiver for a pregnant woman in the upper classes. Ether and chloroform was a popular way to help women deal with the pain.

Beginning sometime around the 1920s and right through the 1950s, laboring women were basically knocked out for the process of labor. This unconscious-like state soon became known as Twilight Sleep. It replaced the chloroform commonly used in the 1800s for pain management.

Twilight Sleep

Twilight sleep was the process of where a woman was drugged enough to not remember or care about the pain of labor. But she was never drugged enough to lose full consciousness. This state was brought on through an injection of morphine and scopolamine.

This method of pain relief was developed in Freiburg, Germany by Carl Gauss. Twilight Sleep is sometimes referred to as the Freiburg Method and it was introduced to the medical community in 1907 after four years of research. It took a few more years for the method to be commonly practiced. Eventually the Twilight Sleep method of pain management was eliminated because it depressed the central nervous system of the baby causing breathing problems and drowsy newborns.

Epidurals for Labor Pain Management

Epidurals are the most common method of modern medical labor pain management and were first used to help with the pain of childbirth near the mid-1940s. The first woman to use an epidural for childbirth was the wife of a coast guardsman who was brought to a marine hospital for delivery. She had health problems and it was thought she would not survive labor because of her heart condition. Her heart condition meant it was considered equally risky to put her under general anesthesia for a c-section. So she was given continuous local anesthesia in the form of an epidural. Both mother and baby survived.


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