Parenting & Pregnancy: How childbirth has changed from the 18th century to now

Things have changed a lot even since 20 years ago, when Dr. Tina Schnapper started delivering babies.

Posted: Mar 5, 2021 4:25 PM
Updated: May 3, 2021 11:22 AM

EUGENE, Ore. – Bringing a new baby into the world can be stressful, but today, we have a lot more tools to make it safer and more comfortable than we did just decades ago.

Things have changed a lot since Dr. Tina Schnapper started delivering babies more than 20 years ago.

“We do a lot of simulations. We do a lot of collaborations,” Schnapper said.

In the 1930s, the first antibiotics were developed, and in the 1960s, doctors first started using ultrasounds for pregnant women. The 1970s is when epidurals first started to become commonplace.

The formal training of midwives didn’t start until the 20th century. Before that, most women had their babies at home.

“Before the 18th century, having a baby was kind of women’s work, right,” Schnapper said. “In the 18th century men actually started to study the birth process and they started to make it a little more scientific and they called them male midwives. They studied breach births and they also developed the use of forceps, which is an instrument that helps deliver the baby.”

Forceps aren’t used as much these days, and most deliveries in hospitals are designed to feel homier and less sterile.

“All of our rooms have nice, big Jacuzzi tubs for women to labor in if they want to, but we also do have emergency equipment in the rooms but we try to hide them in the cupboards and things,” Schnapper said.

Certified nurse midwife Tina Colwell said midwives are still in the picture but are far more educated and even able to offer pain medication or an epidural if a patient prefers.

“I like to tell people that we want to embrace their home birth in the hospital if that’s what they choose. And there’s a lot of women who really love that because we have things at the hospital that they may not have at home. We have big labor balls that they can sit on and the beds that they can actually deliver in change multiple positions so it allows her to be in whatever position feels most comfortable and natural for her,” Colwell said.

Moving forward, Schnapper thinks we could see more changes in how we take care of women, especially after they deliver.

“It’s actually been called the fourth part of pregnancy, basically, and there’s actually been a push to extend that beyond six weeks, which is really the traditional time, to really extend it up to a year after a woman has had a baby,” Schnapper said.

It can especially be important because a lot of young women don’t have regular doctors and they already have a relationship with their obstetrician-gynecologist, Schnapper said. So it makes sense for their OB-GYN to help them with things like birth control, hormones, stress and other life changes that are happening in the first year of a baby’s life.

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