Childbirth in history

(9 Posts)
YonicScrewdriver Thu 14-May-15 20:52:51

Went majorly off topic on another thread on the relative historic risks of war and childbirth. I thought I'd see if anyone here was interested. Countess, IIRC, you've looked at this a bit?

YonicScrewdriver Thu 14-May-15 20:53:59

Here's the post and links:
"The article notes first that, of course, the evidence is flawed and incomplete; any estimate of maternal mortality from the 16th to 18th centuries cannot be any better than a very rough, error-riddled estimate. That said, here's what they found. In one parish in England, church registers counted 23.5 maternal deaths per thousand baptisms (so, per thousand births, assuming each birth results in a baptism). The London Bills of Mortality count an average of 15.9 maternal deaths per thousand baptisms from 1666 to 1758, not counting plague years. That's a maternal mortality rate comparable to that in modern Afghanistan. The paper notes that these are "certainly underestimates." For example, deaths from ectopic pregnancies or early miscarriage complications might not have been counted if they couldn't be recognized.

Continuing on, death rates in the mid-1800s were apparently lower, on the order of 5 maternal deaths per 1000 live births. That's a bit higher than Bangladesh's rates today. Odds of the mother dying were much higher when the baby was stillborn, ranging from 57 to 137 maternal deaths per 1000 stillbirths. That's as many as 13% of women dying while giving birth to a still baby. Sort of an intuitive result: unknown pregnancy complications, on which we can only speculate, mean a much higher chance of both maternal and fetal death.

Overall, the paper estimates about 25 deaths per 1000 live births from the 16th to 18th centuries. That's a 2.5% chance of death per birth, or 2500 in 100,000 live births. That's quite a bit higher than the rate in Afghanistan today, which is 1800 maternal days per 100,000 births. "

Those quotes from this blog which references the two papers the figures were from:

Estimate of length of Wars of the Roses: 30 years.

Estimate of overall death toll: 50,000

Estimate of population of England at the time: 3.5-5m.

Answer: a hell of a lot more women died in childbirth than men died in war in those 30 years.

AbbeyRoadCrossing Thu 14-May-15 20:59:54

This is really interesting. I'd have died with my 1st (placenta praevia) in those days, although the consultant said perhaps even 30 years ago as not every hospital could do a c section then and there back then. Very lucky to be in modern times.
I reckon it's higher than estimated too in the old days e.g. if someone died of an infection a few weeks postpartum they might not recognise it as such. I imagine the death rate within a few months of giving birth would be quite high.

SurelyYoureJokingMrFeynman Thu 14-May-15 21:01:11

Interesting. Getting on thread, and I'll see if I have anything meaningful to extract from my family tree data.

YonicScrewdriver Thu 14-May-15 21:08:36

Oh my link broke:

YonicScrewdriver Thu 21-May-15 21:31:04

Ooh, Diane Purkiss just said on Philippa Gregory's White Queen programme that they estimated 1 in 10 women died in childbirth in the mid 1400s. They could do nothing about PPH and breech presentations often resulted in death, C sections only done after the mother had died.

SurelyYoureJokingMrFeynman Sun 24-May-15 11:14:03

OK, I can't make anything statistically useful of my data. Don't have death info for enough people, and software won't allow me to interrogate what I do have in a useful way.

I have quite a lot of individual stories of death in childbirth, and the impact on the families. Eg children split up and sent to stay with distant relatives although father still alive, and spending the rest of their lives looking for each other; children rejected by extended family for "killing their mother"; a gutwrenching letter written by a father the morning after his wife dies in childbirth sad.

One point that does occur to me is that the principal of pensions for dependents of men killed in the armed services has been well-established in the UK for centuries. Whereas when a woman died in childbirth there was no support for the family, unless the parish volunteered help or they came under the poorhouse.

So I suspect the economic impact on the family could be much greater if a woman died than if a soldier or sailor died.

Of course, women's domestic work was deemed to have no economic value.

carlajean Wed 01-Jul-15 16:19:59

A History of Women's Bodies by Edward Shorter is an interesting read on this area

ivykaty44 Tue 29-Sep-15 20:30:33

It would seem that there was intervention from doctors for the well off who caused, at times more suffering and death than those left to labour alone or with an older woman of the parish.

Looking at this catalogue there are various midwife or childbirth records which would be interesting

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