A Brief History of Pregnancy

An article idea was given to me by a Facebook friend -The Changing Face of Pregnancy and Exercise.

Great idea, I thought what might make this even more interesting is a look back over history at what shaped the way we looked at pregnancy.

Ancient Times sounds like a very idyllic time to have a baby.

People were spiritual believing birth and death were like the sun and moon. Cycles of life.

Faith was put in women to carry and deliver children without male interference and almost entirely delivered in an upright position. Women continued with their day to day tasks until the baby was born. (The only exception to this rule is Greek and Romans, who had a distrust for women)

Labour pains were considered as a reaction to the baby fighting his way out of the womb. Death rate in delivery was very low.

Medieval Times to 17th Century is where things start to get a bit ugly.

Attitudes were starting to change as conflict erupted between the church and ancient traditions.

Labour pains became punishment for Eve’s sins.

There was little to no sanitation. Rooms were made dark and warm with straw scattered on the floor to absorb any fluids.

C Sections were performed during this time but on dead mothers.

Women were encouraged to spend the last few weeks of pregnancy in bed resting.

During these times it seems that a little more intervention started to take place and delivery became far less serene.   Death rate were still relatively low but certainly creeping up.

The next era to make there mark was the 18th century and the beginning of science.

The forceps were introduced in 1740! No antiseptic though!

Intervention was far more aggressive and common place and is when delivery started to make it’s way into hospitals (though upper classes thought this was very common and continued to have home births)

Living conditions were poor at this time, hygiene was still a long way off.

The nutrition of expectant mothers was dreadful which all led to increasing rates of death in labour. It didn’t seem to occur to the doctors how external factors impacted the death rate and chalked it up to the ‘danger of child birth’ this only seemed to make matters worse as intervention at this time was not as sophisticated as it is now.

Times started to change in Georgian to Regency Times.

Moving back to nature was starting to produce more normal births and a trend begun. Just as progress was picking up speed, the death of Princess Charlotte after 50 hour of labour, plunge England into mourning probably only ever seen again on that scale when Princess Diana died.

Shops closed for 2 weeks. People from every class wore black arm bands. People looked for a scapegoat. Dr Croft who attended to Princess Charlotte fitted the bill and after weeks of fingers pointed at him, he committed suicide.

Child birth from here on took a much more aggressive tone. Birth was seen as hard and very difficult process. Hygiene and better living did help but death rates were still very high. Activity during pregnancy was frowned upon, many women disappearing from society until after birth.

Victorian Era – A time when women were to be seen and not heard. Where women were seen as fragile frail creatures who were entirely to blame for miscarriage. Citing over exertion as the probable cause. You can imagine what this did for activity levels during pregnancy.

Yuck!! Pregnancy and a Corset!!
Yuck!! Pregnancy and a Corset!!

Pain relief became common place. Even Queen Victoria used chloroform. And the first successful cesarean was carried out in 1882.

Great strides were being made in the medical field during this time but a women’s natural ability to deliver, something she had been doing for thousands of years was wildly underestimated.

It is not until present day that we are now moving back to the idea that a women can deliver without medical intervention or drugs. Birthing centres were first introduced in America during the 1970’s.

Delivery reverting back to standing and squatting positions. Death rate over the last 50 years have plummeted

This marked the beginning of a new wave of women who wanted to give birth the way nature intended. Intervention is only used in emergencies and drugs offered in birthing centres are limited to be gas and air. Birthing pools and hypnotherapy becoming far more popular.

The advise to stay active during pregnancy is now picking up pace, with special classes being programmed and courses to educate fitness professionals increasing in popularity.

Slowly and I mean slowly people are starting to view pregnancy in a new light. Women is seen as a powerful force who is not only looking out for her own health by staying active but also giving her unborn child a great start too.

Still there are a lot of negative views of exercise, particularly something like Crossfit.

I love the photo’s of my friend Rachel Steadman during her pregnancy. The irony between the two different shots.

Accaptable – Holding her daughter overhead.

Unacceptable – A kettelbell Swing

Both of equal weight, it’s probably less awkward in fact to swing the bell.

Why such a view??

Because we have lost sight and forgotten that pregnancy is as old as time.

Looking at the history things only got worse the more we interfered, the less active women were and as cities and villages became crowed and unclean.

I am not suggesting we revert back to ancient times and bang clubs but we could learn a lot from how our ancestors view life, birth and death.

If a women has always done an activity,  carry water buckets on her head or swing a kettlebell why does she have to stop?

Please lets be sensible about how we look at a training pregnant women. I bet she is more in tune with her own body and more clued up about her limitations then you think.

(If you are pregnant and want to continue training I would always advise to seek out some professional guidance first and consult your doctor)

 

Sally Dixey is a Personal Trainer with Crossfit London in Bethnal Green

 

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