Childbirth and Child Bed Fever

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Lying In Chamber

Noble women in the Medieval and Renaissance era, believe it or not, died more often than peasant women in child birth for a few reasons. One reason was the fact that it was a Queens duty to produce as many heirs as possible because infant mortality was so high. For example, Elizabeth Woodville (1437-1492) had 10 babies, her husband’s mother Duchess Cecily (1415-1495) had 7. These are how many children were born, we can assume there were other pregnancies that were miscarriages. Even today with modern medicine, 25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Noble women had baby right after baby because they were not allowed to nurse their own babies. Wet nurses were hired to nurse royal children, making the Queen able to get pregnant again. Until fairly recently, most children were nursed at their mother’s breast for two years. Nursing exclusively normally stops ovulation. This means peasant women had one baby every couple years usually, whereas Queens had babies (or were pregnant) nearly every year.

Another reason childbirth was less dangerous for peasant women (it was still was dangerous, just not as dangerous) was the lying in chamber. During the 8th month of pregnancy, Important ladies were locked away in a dark, stuffy bed chamber. The windows were even blocked by heavy tapestry keeping out fresh air. She was surrounded by her ladies, and not allowed to leave. They believed this was protecting the mother and child, when really it did more harm than good. So many germs, but also so depressing… could you imagine the life it would suck out you just having to be in there everyday for a month or more? Women have easier, safer childbirth when they get plenty of exercise. Not having enough exercise can actually cause complications. Women who don’t walk when pregnant, even in the very last months have a higher chance of breech birth needing to surgically remove the infant. Back then that meant sure death for the mother, and usually death for the infant. The stuffy germ filled chamber usually cause infection and fever. And how did people back then treat fever? By trying to make you sweat it out by heating the chamber, which we now know is the worse thing you can do. In a way, the peasants way was actually better.

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