When you think about the number of birthing options we have today, it is safe to say we’ve come along way. The history of birth practices reveals some fascinating, shocking and downright bizarre methods of delivering babies. Here we reveal our top picks
- Ancient pregnancy tests
Back some 3000 years ago, the women of ancient Egypt had their own, rather unique, methods of testing for pregnancy. If a woman was thought to be pregnant, she would urinate on a mixture of barley and wheat seeds over the course of several days. Then, if they began to grow, this would be a sign that she was expecting.
Furthermore, if it was the barley that began to sprout then this indicated a boy, if it was the wheat, then they would expect a girl.
- For royalty, birthing included spectators
It would not be unusual to think that the birth of a royal baby should be a very private affair, but as history would have it, it was quite the opposite. Instead the birth of a monarch was regarded as a significant public concern that affected an entire nation. That’s why whenever royalty gave birth, they would have a whole room of onlookers to ensure the baby was healthy and no wrongdoing could take place. In fact when Marie Antoinette gave birth in 1778, two hundred people were in attendance!
- Pain relief
One aspect of child birth that hasn’t differed over the years is of course: the pain. Although we have many advanced ways of relieving the discomfort of labour, many of these options were not available to women of ancient times.
As documented in a will from 1508, women wore girdles stitched with silver and jasmine to combat the pain of childbirth. Others placed amber and special stones on their stomachs, or even wrapped themselves in cloths.
But it was only when Queen Victoria gave birth to her 6th Child, Leopold that medicinal drugs were first used as pain relief during labour. It has been told that she inhaled chloroform from a handkerchief, which she later described as “soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure”.
- Birthing with dolphins
Historical artefacts and records show us that the history of the water birth began almost as long ago as birth itself. From as early as 2700 BC the Minoan civilisation on the island of Crete created temples in which women laboured and birthed in water. In fact from the Southern Islands of Japan, to the Panama Indians and the Maoris of New Zealand, giving birth in water was, and very much still is, a natural practice.
But some historical water birth tales are a little more odd than others. There are legends that the ancient Egyptians would specially select mothers to give birth in water. The babies born from these water births would become priests and priestesses.
In California, The Chumash Indians relay the stories of women labouring in natural pools and shallow inlets with dolphins hovering nearby. It is said the dolphins would appear in the water and then remain close to the expectant mother until the baby had been born.
Today, the practice of water birth still very much lives on, and is a common method of home delivery. Many expectant mothers opt to deliver their babies in a birth tub because it is proven to relieve pain and discomfort and create a calming atmosphere in which to labour.