Pregnancy and childbirth are never easy and always come with a certain amount of risks and the potential for problems. With modern medicine, however, having a baby is indisputably the safest and most efficient it’s ever been.
Nothing serves as a better reminder of that fact than a brief detour through the various practices, customs, and beliefs people have held about childbirth throughout history.
Not everything people historically believed about giving birth was wrong, per say, but even the most mundane rituals can still boggle the mind. Here we’ve gathered a collection of the craziest childbirth practices from history that will make you extremely grateful to live in modern times!
You might think that giving birth to a child is very personal and private event, but in medieval and Early Modern Europe, especially in England, monarchs were expected to give birth in front of their courts with as many as 70 people watching. The rationale was to have a number of witnesses there to verify that the infant was of royal blood in case of any challenges to their legitimate right to the throne later on.
Bloodletting, the practice of drawing blood to prevent or cure illnesses, was a common medical practice for nearly 2,000 years before finally being dismissed as totally ineffective by doctors in the 19th century. Unfortunately, this meant that women giving birth were also subject to this practice in the belief that it would prevent inflammation, hemorrhaging, and puerperal fever.
Anthropologists aren’t sure how the tradition of spitting on a baby to keep him or her safe from evil spirits was spread, but the unusual practice is or has been observed in Bulgaria, parts of Africa, and in Southeast Asia, especially by the Khmu people in Laos. The belief is that by tainting newborns with saliva, they’ll appear less attractive to malevolent forces that would try to abduct them.
This practice is still observed by a Muslim sect living in the Maharashtra region of India, the members of which believe that it’s important to teach infants to be strong early on. That’s why they toss newborns off the side of a 50 foot temple shrine and catch them below in a tightly held sheet. Needless to say, this unusual ritual terrifies the babies and puts them at risk of serious injury.
Perhaps adopted by humans because certain animals do it naturally, eating the placenta has been observed in cultures across the world in places and cultures as disparate as those in China, Jamaica, India, and even the United States. The reasoning behind the practice varies from purely symbolic gesturing to a belief that the nutrients in the placenta actually somehow prepare a parent for their task.
Although it sounds outrageous to people from the West, in many Eastern cultures the practice of touching, kissing, or tickling an infant’s genitals is considered a sign of love and affection. The unusual practice likely started among China’s Manchu people and over time spread to parts of Japan, India, and Thailand.
Although this practice has popped up from time to time throughout history, becoming notably vogue at various points in France, China, and Greenland, it became far more common after being deemed mandatory by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. He believed that loud noises and commotion made the birth difficult and would adversely affect the child throughout his or her life.
Lotus birth is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord attached to the placenta until it naturally falls off on its own after about a week’s time. Advocates of the practice say that allowing a newborn child to shed the connection on their own time lessens the trauma of separation that occurs at birth, while critics say that leaving the umbilical cord uncut leaves the baby susceptible to infection.
Although its critics say that this custom has much more to do with poverty and the low social standing of women in Nigerian culture, many expecting mothers still go off alone to give birth privately. While midwives and doctors are encouraged to help out afterwards, the solo birth itself is supposed to promote independence and personal strength. Unfortunately, the practice leads to many complications and deaths, both of the infants and the mothers.
Before it was widely understood which anesthetics actually worked and why, all variety of bizarre and disgusting “painkillers” were used in the practice of childbirth. Among the weirder ones were a combination of cow dung and urine that was supposed to alleviate labor pains and a mixture of goose semen and water to promote a mother’s healing after giving birth.
Wow… it really makes you appreciate straightforward today’s medical practices doesn’t it? Thank goodness most of these were left in the past!
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