A Roman carving of a midwife at a birth
(Isola Dell� Sacra, Ostia, 1st century AD)
A midwife is a woman who helps other women give birth to their babies. In ancient and medieval times, doctors didn't usually have anything to do with women having babies - that was the job of midwives. Some midwives didn't know much about it, and just provided support while women were having their babies. But many midwives had a lot of experience and knew how to deliver babies as safely as possible. Midwives gave advice to women in labor, and helped the baby to be born. Families paid the midwife, first in food or cloth, and later in money. Being a midwife was a good job, and maybe one of the best jobs that women could have then.
But even the best midwives in both ancient and medieval times didn't know a lot of things we know today. They didn't know about germs, so they didn't always wash their hands before taking care of women. They didn't know how to do a Caesarian section.
Many babies died while they were being born, and many women also died while they were having their babies, even if they had a good midwife. About one out of five women who were having a baby died. (These days, with modern midwives and hospitals, that hardly ever happens).
Ancient and Medieval Medicine
Ancient and Medieval Families
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To find out more about midwives, check out these books from Amazon or from your local library:
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