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 Pregnancy in 18th Century 
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Post Pregnancy in 18th Century
I've always wondered what women in those times wore during pregnancy. Did they get frequent visits from their doctors, how did medical care differ between the royals and commoners? Anything you can find on that subject during that era would be great.

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Last edited by Sillage de la Reine on Sun Nov 09, 2008 11:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Fri Oct 17, 2008 6:33 am
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
I know that you could easily die during the childbirth and that many women were quite scared of it. I have read how many women, before the 18th century, decided to have their portrait done during the pregnancy because the reasonable fear of dying. The thing is that doctors did not wash their hands and because the bad hygiene it was very easy to get some infection. I have also read some statistic how one of every three women had dyed during the childbirth but I am not sure how accurate this number is, seems impossible! Many things made the pregnancy very difficult, because the poor medical knowledge it was better not to have a doctor by your side during it. :?

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Sat Oct 18, 2008 6:14 pm
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
I just recently read that women during those times died of childbirth due to the corsets they wore since they were young, and it pushed internal organs out of place that when they were pregnant, it affected the mother's health as well as the babies. So I suppose the high fashion they payed for was payed by their lives more than anything. Then again, women in those times are more fearless than women these days who have an average of 2 or 3 kids, whereas in the 18th century or before had 7 kids or more like Maria Theresa herself with more than 15 pregnancies. YIKES!!

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Sun Oct 19, 2008 1:43 am
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
Sillage de la Reine wrote:
I just recently read that women during those times died of childbirth due to the corsets they wore since they were young, and it pushed internal organs out of place that when they were pregnant, it affected the mother's health as well as the babies.

I don’t know about that but it is possible… and terrible. :o
Nowadays, people are prepared to do anything for beauty too. The difference is that today we know very well all the risks but we are still doing it. :roll:

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Sun Oct 19, 2008 1:38 pm
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
Stays did cause problems for pregnancy, but not in that way and they weren't as bad as 19th century corsets. 18th century stays were not really that bad for you. Due to their shape they couldn't be laced as tightly as 19th century corsets, nor did they change the general shape of the body as much. The biggest problem that happened with them was that up till the late 18th century children were laced into miniature stays from around age 2. There is one recorded instance (according to Valerie Steele's "The Corset") of a child dying because wearing stays caused its ribs to grow deformed and they punctured the liver. The main problem with wearing stays during pregnancy is that they put pressure on the abdomen and that could force a premature birth. Here is a photo of some 18th century pregnancy stays. You'll notice they're laced from the side, which was intended to give them a little extra "give" and comfort.

Regarding pregnancy in general, it was risky business. 300 out of 1000 births ended in stillbirth, with a good number of those who lived not surviving past 5 years old. Midwives helped women give birth, though by the early 19th century it was switching to doctors for the wealthy (who were generally seen as more capable because they had been educated according to the current medical knowledge (not very useful) and moreso because they were men). Many midwives were superstitious and had no training beyond being present for births. If a birth was going badly the only option was recourse to forceps or attempt a caesarian, which was obviously extremely risky. Years could go by without a successful caesarian being performed in France.

The myth of the pregnant woman retiring from society is mostly a product of Victorian stereotypes. Most women went about their daily business as best they could throughout their pregnancies. Wealthy women could take things easier if they wanted to (not that they had much strenuous activity to do in the first place), but most women simply went about their lives as normal because they had no other option. Peasant women, market women, wives of artisans, and so on all had no choice but to work through their pregnancies, give birth, and go back to work. Also, due to the high frequency of pregnancies during a woman's lifetime it just became part of the cycle of life for most women. As it has been mentioned, though, it was extremely risky. I don't have the stats for the percentage of women who died during childbirth, but it was very high.

Also, the illness that Marija Vera mentioned is Puerperal fever. In the 17th century, "lying-in" hospitals were established in major European cities (often a ward in the obligatory l'Hotel Dieu) for poor or working class women who did not give birth at home. Throughout the 18th century, these hospitals both in Europe and America reported a consistent death rate for 20-25% of women who gave birth there. While Peurperal fever was not the cause of all these deaths, it was a major factor. It was caused by doctors switching between patients with absolutely no concern for sanitation. It wasn't until 1795 that a Scottish doctor suggested that the fevers might perhaps be an infectious process with the physicians as carriers and until 1847 when a doctor tried an experiment that involved all the doctors washing their hands between patients, which drastically reduced the cases of infection.


Sun Oct 19, 2008 7:49 pm
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
Wow, thank you dreamoutloud. That is very helpful and I will take that knowledge with me for my next doctors appointment and ask em if they knew about that. That's all so interesting. As much as I love the 18th century for it's beauty, culture, art, etc...I'm so glad I live in present times with great doctors, medical advancements which makes being pregnant and childbirth a lot easier. I can't stand wearing jeans during pregnancy, I can't see myself wearing a stay til delivery. That's crazy!

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Mon Oct 20, 2008 4:06 am
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
Good info! Is there anything out there about Marie Antoinette's pregnancies? I have read an awful lot but never come across anything describing her during her pregnancies. There is a little about a couple of her childrens births, but I've seen nothing on pregnancy. Anyone know?


Fri Nov 07, 2008 8:05 pm
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
I don't know if you guys are interested in seeing this, but I got a picture from my ultrasound. My son in black/white 3D...
Image
Image

That was me at 31 weeks, I'm going on 33 this Tuesday, he'll be due on December 30!!

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Sun Nov 09, 2008 11:37 pm
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
Haha, how cute! They always looks so fragile and tender in the womb, don't they? :baby:

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Mon Nov 10, 2008 12:33 am
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
Dream out loud; thank you for the enlightening essay on childbirth.The forceps were torturous looking and I'd never seen pregnancy stays. Is there more detailed info out there? I for one am interested in the actual physical examination of the pregnant female.How was this handled with modesty? Or was it? :!:


Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:17 am
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
I'll look for some books/articles for you when I've got some more time. In the meantime, I'll try to answer what I can!

During the 18th century pregnancy was mostly the domain of midwives, so modesty issues weren't as much of a concern since it was just between women. Childbirth was also such a commonplace occurrence that I imagine women would get relatively accustomed to it. I don't know much about how the actual examinations were done, however, sorry! There wasn't a great deal of information about pregnancy out there due to the fact the most common method of learning about the body was via dissection and it was rather difficult to obtain pregnancy bodies for anatomy studies. It was also, of course, a "woman's issue" and therefor not as worthy of study. This began to change when men started moving into the profession of midwives in the late 18th century. They criticized midwives as being medically uneducated. By the turn of the century there was a growing sense for wealthy women that it was better to have a male doctor to look after you, whereas midwives were for the poor.

Also, there is an engraving I've seen, though for the life of me I can't remember where, from around 1800-1810 of a woman receiving a gynecological examination from a male doctor. Basically she is standing there and he is sticking his hand up his skirt and feeling around, but not looking. So that is how the modesty issue changed when women were now being examined by male doctors.


Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:31 pm
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
Thank you again, Dreamoutloud; now I wonder how any pregnancy advanced far enough and healthy enough to produce a baby.


Sat Dec 13, 2008 3:52 am
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
I am so glad i have read what a corset can do, not those sexy ones that you get at VS, but the real ones in the 19th century, I use to want that hour glass shape that those women had, but the problems that comes with it, isnt worth it.

candy


Sat Dec 13, 2008 4:11 am
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
Sillage de la Reine wrote:
Wow, thank you dreamoutloud. That is very helpful and I will take that knowledge with me for my next doctors appointment and ask em if they knew about that. That's all so interesting. As much as I love the 18th century for it's beauty, culture, art, etc...I'm so glad I live in present times with great doctors, medical advancements which makes being pregnant and childbirth a lot easier. I can't stand wearing jeans during pregnancy, I can't see myself wearing a stay til delivery. That's crazy!


It is crazy but in 18th century society only "loose" women went without stays even during pregnancy. It would have been shocking to go without stays; and few (normal) people behaved in a shocking way.

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Fri Jun 26, 2009 2:13 pm
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Post Re: Pregnancy in 18th Century
That's really interesting! That pregnacy stay is exteremely intriguing! Although I really can't imagine how much better it was to wear, but i'm very thankful to be living in the 21st century!

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Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:22 am
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