Search This Blog

Monday, 23 May 2016


The word midwife dates back to around 1300. The prefix mid simply meant "with" (like the German mit). A midwife was someone who attended the wife during childbirth.

In Ancient Egypt, women gave birth while squatting on large “birthing bricks” which gave the midwife room to hold the baby as it emerged.

In the Middle Ages, the mother chose a midwife and a group of friends to attend her delivery. Birthing was an event exclusive to women: the mother, her female relatives, and a midwife, who was often poorly trained if highly experienced.

Most medieval midwives were illiterate and of low social class.

In this medieval image, a midwife prepares a pennyroyal mixture for a pregnant woman.

In instances when the labor was obstructed and the child could not be delivered, surgeons might be called in to dismember the baby in the womb with hooks, knives, and other instruments.

From 1400 onwards, midwives were paid by some town councils, particularly in Germany, to act in a variety of cases involving women and children. The midwives of Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Munich and Stuttgart were examined for proficiency by physicians and for morality by influential townswomen.

In medieval Europe, many midwives were burnt at the stake as witches. On January 28, 1581, for instance, Scottish midwife Agnes Sampson was garrotted and burned to death during the North Berwick witch trials.

The execution by burning of 3 alleged witches in Baden, Switzerland in 1585

Until the 17th century, midwives were almost exclusively women but the term man-midwife or he-midwife appeared around 1600.

Male midwives became very popular among the upper classes in Britain in the early 18th century as part of a radical transformation of childbirth. This was partly due to their medical training and use of forceps for difficult births.

In North America during the eighteenth century, especially in Protestant areas, male midwives became almost common place and childbirth was transformed from a women-only rite. It became the vogue for society ladies to have their husbands present at labor.

Jennifer Worth wrote her bestseller Call the Midwife in 2002 in response to an article in the British Midwifery Journal, criticizing the lack of midwives in literature. The two sequels Shadows of the Workhouse (2005) and Farewell to the East End (2009) were also successful and by the time of Jennifer Worth’s death in June 2011, her books had already sold almost a million copies. In 2012, the popular BBC adaptation of the trilogy boosted sales further.

Wikipedia Commons

According to WHO statistics, 75 per cent of European births are attended by midwives, but the figure is only 4 per cent in the US.

Sources Daily Express,

No comments:

Post a Comment