15 Ancient Childbirth Myths That'll Make You Glad You're a Mom Now

snakesWe've all heard our fair share of questionable old wives' tales regarding pregnancy and childbirth, but chances are you haven't heard some of the craziest commonly held beliefs about having babies from ancient times! If you think labor and delivery are a messy, dirty business now, wait'll you hear what it was like in ancient Greece (spoiler alert: You'll be glad you were born in modern times!).

If you think eating placenta pills postpartum is a weird thing to do, well, let's just say it pales in comparison to what many long-ago cultures did with the afterbirth. And at least you probably didn't have to deal with a basket of snakes in the delivery room!

Read on for one of the strangest history lessons you'll ever get!

 

Image via Eric Bégin/Flickr

  • Shake It Up, Baby!

    1

    In a borderline barbaric attempt to literally rattle babies loose, pregnant women in ancient Greece (and for likely thousands of years thereafter) would allow four other women to each grab a limb and shake them vigorously to start contractions. Aren't you sorry you missed out on that one, ladies?

  • Come Undone

    2

    Good thing they didn't have shoelaces back in ancient Greece (did they?). Because knots were considered to be a bad omen in the delivery room, any and all ties in the area had to be undone the moment a woman went into labor. That's a lot of unbelted tunics!

  • Yuck, Yuck Goose

    3

    We'd like to send out an enthusiastic "No freakin' way, dude" to Pliny the Elder, who told the ancient Greeks that drinking goose semen mixed with water was a great remedy for a difficult childbirth (other options powdered a sow's dung and the liquid from the uterus of a weasel). Seems like all of those things would make labor a lot MORE difficult to us.

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  • Dirty Deeds

    4

    Fertility testing ain't what it used to be -- and that's a good thing! In ancient Egypt, one method used to determine a woman's fertility was by making her sit on a mound of dirt that had been soaked in old beer and mixed with fruit and dates; for every time she threw up, it meant another child she would have in the future. (It's unclear how long the poor woman was forced to sit there.)

  • Dead Can Dance

    5

    Ancient Anglo-Saxon women had a nifty trick for making sure everything went well in the delivery room: by performing a "dance" in which they stepped over a dead man (and a live one, too). They even recited a fun little chant! While stepping over the dead man, a woman would say "This is my remedy for hateful slow birth, this is my remedy for heavy difficult birth, this is my remedy for hateful imperfect birth." Then, while stepping over her (live) husband, she would say, "Up I go, step over you with a living child, not a dead one, with a full-born one, not a doomed one." Guess corpses were easy to come by in olden times!

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  • Something Fishy

    6

    Craving étouffée? A traditional Romany spell from Central Europe calls for pregnant women to pin a sachet containing crayfish shells inside their clothing for blessings and protection (apparently the little critters are powerful symbols of female power). 

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  • Pretty Corny

    7

    Nowadays, women trying to induce labor at home might try eating something spicy or walking up and down stairs. Back in ancient Egypt, women were willing to resort to more, er, drastic measures, like inserting ground corn or honey-soaked hemp into their vaginas. (Wouldn't an ear of corn have been a bit less messy?)

  • Shoe In

    8

    We've heard of drinking champagne out of a stiletto, but this Syrian superstition is decidedly less glamorous: To ensure a speedy delivery, pregnant women were told to drink pure spring water out of the father's right shoe.

  • Clean Sweep

    9

    Ancient Roman midwives were worried about more than dirt and debris when they swept up birthing chambers; namely, evil spirits, whom they sought to drive away by using willow brooms to sweep the doorways. (Following successful deliveries, brooms were then taken apart and the pieces scattered.) Would a Swiffer work?

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  • Ghostbusters

    10

    You know what's scarier than ghosts? Homeless ghosts, who apparently used to hang around laboring moms in ancient China in the hopes of possessing new babies' bodies. Luckily, all it took to scare these pushy phantoms away was to light a bunch of red candles in the birthing chamber. Phew!

  • Fairy Tales

    11

    Anybody who's seen Sleeping Beauty knows that fairies love nothing better than to attend a birth. Anybody who's seen Sleeping Beauty also knows that you don't want those fairies on your bad side, which is why women in Spain used to put dishes of honey out as an offering to the winged creatures.

  • Nevermore

    12

    Nowadays, (some) new moms eat their placentas for good health; Native American (Kwakiutl) women fed the afterbirth to ravens to ensure that their babies would develop psychic powers. (The latter sounds almost more appealing, doesn't it?)

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  • A Horse of Course

    13

    Malevolent fairies were also apparently a major concern in long-ago Ireland, where new moms would drive away sprites intent on stealing their babies by filling a bag with old horseshoe nails, hen manure, and salt and nailing it to the wall (also using an old horseshoe nail). Um, that would drive most things away!

  • Snake Eyes

    14

    Every laboring mom wants a basket of snakes by her bedside, right? 'Cause that's what women in ancient China got, as husbands were expected to gather a basket of snakes for the birthing chamber, then feed them the afterbirth and release them in an effort to win the Snake Spirit's blessings. 

  • Secret Square

    15

    Kind of like carrying around a prenatal to-do list (but not), according to Anglo-Saxon tradition, pregnant women wore a leather bag or metal case containing a square of parchment with a series of letters known as the SATOR magic square for protection. (The same square was used throughout Europe and Britain for everything from fire control to livestock care.) 

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