Leeches? I Think Not. Enalisa B.

As I continued onto part 2 of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth, I noticed that there was a reoccurring topic, that topic being childbed fever. Childbed fever is also referred to as puerperal fever, puerperal infection, and postpartum infection. While childbed fever may go by different names, the impact it has had on women in the past and today will always remain the same.


“…you could deliver a baby Monday, feel fine Tuesday, feverish Wednesday, delirious Thursday, and die on Friday.” Reading that was really eye opening for me in a way. I’m not really sure about the process of what happens after birth in the early 1800’s but I do know that these days, after giving birth doctors take the baby to receive postpartum care. According to parents.com postpartum care consits of “an injection of vitamin K, which helps the blood to clot. Antibiotic ointment will be applied to his or her eyes to prevent infection.Your baby will be foot printed, and identification bands will be placed on his or her wrist and leg”. However, seeing as in the early 1800’s these procedures didn’t necessarily happen, these women with childbed fever probably never got to hold or see their child (completely heartbreaking).

birth in the 1800s

After doing further research on exactly what childbed fever is, I found that it is basically an infection in a part of a the woman’s reproductive organs following childbirth or abortion. In the early 1800’s professional doctoral hygiene was often overlooked, meaning that doctors would go from one patient to another causing the spread of disease and bacteria. When Semmelweis came to the conclusion the Kolletschka died because of an infection he may have given to himself due the lack of cleanliness before and after autopsies, he made everyone wash themselves with chlorine. After doing so the death rate went from 20% to 1.3%, that means 18.7% of the women that gave birth survived all because someone demanded for the doctors to wash their hands!


Also while reading this book, I realized how far we’ve come in medical technology. From poker like instruments the amniotic hook (used to break the water if not broken already) and from herbal remedies to modern day medicine, it’s quite astonishing to see how far we’ve come from the 1800’s. Thinking about how much we rely on the tools and medicines we have today and reading about the lack thereof in the early 1800’s and even before, I am amazed at how much and how strong the women were before us were. Today, childbed fever can be treated using antibiotics and can see improvements within 2-3 days or antibiotic intake. However, before antibiotics, women were being treated and cured by trial and error. “Women were given laxatives and emetics to drain toxins; chloride douches to cleanse the birth canal; and leeches to suck out bad blood. (Sometimes the bugs crawled up the vagina and got lost in the womb.)” I’m not very fond of bugs within a 3ft radius of me, I can’t imagine a bug inside of me, nope. But that is the way it was back then, I will be forever grateful for biomedical innovations! (get it?)


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