Pregnancy hasn’t always been a well-regulated, safe process. In fact, there was a time when pregnancy was not guaranteed safe at all. Before the advanced technologies that we have now to aid in giving birth and ensuring that new moms are on the right track, there was once what people referred to as simply, “medicine”. Medical practices were a combination of holistic beliefs combined with strange measures that were introduced before a thing was known about side effects
As medicine progressed, it evolved in a legitimate “medical practice” where actual science was combined with the things we knew to be true about childbirth. Technology slowly began to progress and incorporate ideas such as chemistry, biology, and engineering. It was during this period that we moved out of the “this will probably work” era and shifted into the “this is what’s going on, and this scanner will prove it” era.
The medicinal practices, tools, and even societal expectations between these periods were extraordinary compared to how we deal with pregnancy today. In a world where having a baby is a common practice and not something to be overly worried about, it’s tough to believe that at one point, doctors really had no idea what they were doing or what was good for a mom-to-be. It’s out of this time frame that we find some of the most unusual and interesting pregnancy items that were actually used throughout history. Here are 25 of them to give readers a bit of insight into “what was”.
25 Natural Remedies For Pregnancy Side Effects
In addition to pregnancy varying throughout the ages, it also varied from country to country. These three specimens come from India, where they were used in the early 1900s as herbal remedies. From left to right are ajwain seeds, betel nuts, and gum ghatti. It was believed that betel nuts, when chewed, would help to aid in the common heartburn symptoms many pregnant women dealt with. It was believed that these nuts would also help to clear up urinary tract infections and were used for dental hygiene, as well as a laxative, useful for taking care of harmful bacteria. Nowadays, we just take a Tums and call it a day.
24 These Are A Different Type Of “Family Pills”
Alfred Fennings produced a range of medicine that was intended to treat indigestion. While these tiny brown tablets look like anything but something you’d want to take, the claims held true that they relieved symptoms of excess gas, heartburn, and nausea. Fennings began selling medicine in the early to mid-1900s that became a popular over-the-counter aid for various conditions and were popular with pregnant women. Fennings became a popular household name and it wouldn’t be unusual to find some of these boxes in the bathroom cabinet.
23 Corsets Remained A Part Of Society’s Customs
In 1892, this is typically what you’d be encouraged to wear if you were pregnant. Just because you had a growing belly did not mean that you stopped looking good in society and during the late 1800s, corsets were very much routine. The idea of a slim waist followed by a wide circumference of a skirt was a trademark of the Victorian Era. Although this fashion trend withered away not long after the 1800s, corsets such as these were commonplace for moms regardless of how far along she was.
22 A Later Variation On The Corset And Perhaps More Comfortable?
When it became clear that fashion was changing, corsets soon became a thing of the past. Smaller, more logical undergarments such as this one were created in order to hold everything in… So to speak. This was referred to as a maternity corset and would have been seen anywhere from 1900 all the way up to the 1920s when things became a bit looser and laid-back. This was intended to support the stomach of a mom-to-be while still giving her a firm shape and holding in all the things that needed to be held in. We don’t know if it was more comfortable, but it definitely appears to be much easier to get into.
21 The Interesting Thing About Pessaries
Here, you see a personal collection of pessary rings from the early 1900s that belonged to surgeon and radiologist, F.T. Burkith. What would these rings be used for, you ask? Although they look like some type of boho-chic bracelet, that is far from what their purpose was. They were multifaceted and could be used as a method of contraception (similar to the NuvaRing), as a way to measure a woman’s cervix for a diaphragm, or as a medical treatment. They were rubber-coated and we’d imagine not very comfortable although they did come in 19 sizes.
20 The Original Sonogram
The proper medical term for this piece of equipment is an Ultrasonic Foetal Heart Monitor, and it was invented in the 1970s. Ultrasonic recordings of a fetus were not introduced into medical practice until the 1960s, but by the 1970s, monitors such as this were fairly common. This model lasted from 1973 until 1978 and acted as a solid device for keeping track of a baby after conception, throughout pregnancy, and even during labor. This revolutionized childbirth for many women as doctors finally had a way to figure out what was happening inside the womb.
19 An Early Maternity Dress
This frock was one of the earliest conceptions of a “maternity dress”. In the 1880s, this is what would be worn over the corset that you took a gander at several posts prior. A dress such as this really did the job of maintaining elegance as well as structure when it came to modesty, something that was highly valued during the Victorian Era. We’re sure it wasn’t entirely comfortable, especially on hotter days, but there’s no denying the class and regality that easily came through in this large-bustle dress.
18 A Maternity Dress Fit For A Colonial Woman
This dress is currently on exhibit at the Colonial Williamsburg Museum. It’s classic of what would have been seen on a female settler during those times and features an adjustable corset-lace top, complete with quilted fabric. This dress would have provided plenty of warmth and it wasn’t so much about appearances back then, rather it was practical, comfortable, and still pretty enough to be worn outside of the house. The ruffled sleeves are also a nice colonial touch in keeping with the European style of clothing.
17 “Female Pills” Were So Typical
You might not think that hysteria was a common “woman” problem but in the early 1900s, it was very much believed to be so. One of the treatments for “hysteria” — which we now just refer to as a mood swing — was Dr. John Hooper’s Female Pills. These were first patented in the early 1700s in the UK and continued to be a common treatment for all side effects associated with PMS and periods. However, in those days, it was referred to as “irregularities” and considered to be “anti-hysteria” pills. They proved to be no good for pregnant women but served as “the best medicine ever discovered for young women”.
16 A New Form Of Birth Control Or A Fertility Treatment?
Fertility has always been marvelled at, whether you’re going back centuries to the era when people worshipped fertility goddesses or talking in the last century when doctors compensated with medical marvels. One of those medical marvels was the production of progesterone, something that was used as either a form of contraception or as a fertility treatment for patients whose natural levels were low. These mid-1900s capsules were produced via animals or synthetically, which led to a breakthrough in reproductive treatments.
15 The First Umbilical “Clamp”
The years following 1930 were a strange and interesting time for women who were pregnant. They got to see things such as this umbilical tape which was rather brilliant for its time. Doctors knew that the umbilical cord had to be tied off somehow after it was cut into to prevent things such as infection, and this tape was the answer. Nowadays, we have umbilical clamps which are much more sterile but back then, this was easy, smart, and did the trick. It also worked as a way to slow down and stop bleeding after the umbilical cord had been cut, making it necessary for labor and delivery rooms.
14 Why Not Just Make Your Own Clothes?
During the 1940s and 1950s, making your own clothing was very much on-trend. This practice was carried well into the next two decades and women were suddenly at their sewing machines every day. Making your own clothes in today’s day and age is extraordinarily impressive what with all the luxuries that we do have, but back then it was commonplace. Some of these maternity clothes included smocks that could be worn simply over slacks or a skirt and proved to be incredibly comfortable. This pattern from Simplicity is one that many moms-to-be would have had splayed over their sewing tables.
13 Great, Great, Great Aunt Edna?
Talk about an elegant pregnancy. This old photo would have been circa the late 1800s as it shows much of the same style as one of the dresses we discussed prior — But now you get to see how it would really fit. This dress might even date back much further as is indicative of the elaborate beading and lace that adorns the front and down the skirt. Complete with parasol and gloves, no Victorian woman was spared from that which was high fashion. Whether you were pregnant or not, you were getting into that dress, regardless of how much you wobbled while wearing it.
12 A Perpetual Calendar For Your Due Date
Why not make things complicated when you could just use simple math? Unfortunately, in the early 1800s, there were no such things as battery-operated calculators or iPhones with built-in calendars on them. Therefore, odd contraptions such as this perpetual calendar had to be used in order to give a mom-to-be her due date. Doctors knew that 40 weeks was roughly how long it took a baby to develop fully and with that knowledge, they were able to set this archaic calendar. You’d have a rough date of when you would be giving birth, that is if you knew exactly when you’d conceived.
11 Also Known As “Mother’s Cordial”
This bottle of tonic looks like something you’d find in the Halloween section of Target nowadays, rather than something that should be taken during the last two weeks of pregnancy. The secret ingredient in this bitter-tasting elixir was something called stargrass and it was rumoured that the herb encouraged a “safer pregnancy”. This “uterine tonic” as it was referred to was intended to help labor go smoothly and was recommended for women who had troubled pregnancies in the past. This product lasted roughly 20 years, from 1901 to 1921.
10 A Rather Large Gown
It was very unusual to spot a woman who was pregnant out of the house during the last few months of her pregnancy. In the Victorian Era, women were expected to remain inside once they began to show so even having a photo from the early to mid-1800s is remarkable. This photo, in particular, was taken during the 1860s and shows a woman well into her pregnancy wearing what was considered to be a maternity gown back then. Women were also expected to remain tucked away until roughly three months after she had given birth as well, which makes this photo even more of a rarity.
9 The First Birth Control
When discussing pregnancy, we must also address the effort to avoid it as well. Birth Control became an option for many a young woman as well as new moms who wanted to avoid becoming pregnant for the foreseeable future. The first way to do this efficiently and safely (well, mostly) was via birth control pills. The first FDA-approved batch of pills came to fruition in 1960 and changed the lives of women all over the country. There was a long list of side effects to accompany it but for the first time, women had a way to remain in control of their bodies and make their own decisions.
8 That Classic Circular Pack
On May 9th, 1960, these were the pills that many women would soon be carrying in their purses and laying by their bedside tables. G.D. Searle & Co. produced Envoid, which was the first combination hormone pill to keep an egg from being released every month as it normally would. They were the first company to be successful and came in after a long history of those who had tried and been reprimanded for it, some even facing jail time. What you’re looking at revolutionized birth control as we know it and stood on the front lines for decades of perfected research.
7 The First Successful Ultrasound Machine
Douglas Howry and Joseph Holmes are two names that are very important when it comes to the modern ultrasound machine. Their work and research resulted in the very first piece of equipment that was able to capture digital images of a fetus in the 1950s. The strange tub in the photo was used to immerse a mom-to-be in water in order to produce 2D images of the growing baby inside of her. This marked the first in a long line of progression when it comes to the machines we know today and allowed many parents to see their baby inside the womb for the first time.
6 The Strange World Of Medical Tools
What you’re looking at are diagrams of early forceps used by doctors during labor. This medical engraving was created in the 1880s as a way to depict tools used by midwives when delivering a baby and came from the book The Chamberlens and the Midwifery Forceps, written by J.H. Aveling. Forceps such as these would be used in the event that a baby was proving tough to deliver and were, quite obviously, not the safest or most efficient of medical tools. In fact, they pale in comparison with the technologies we have today that are safe and proven effective.
5 Scopolamine Hyoscine Hydrobromide Tablets
As scary as this bottle might look and as anxiety-inducing as the title of these pills may sound, we know them nowadays as simply Kwells. This is used in modern times to treat motion sickness but was also used at one point to treat morning sickness as well. Hyoscine hydrobromide is a hefty anti-nausea medication that prevents the vestibular system from sending messages to the part of your brain that would cause you to be sick. It’s not yet been certified as safe for use during pregnancy, though, but back then it was a viable option.
4 The Harmless Pink Pills
In the late 19th century, it was well-known that pregnant women needed more iron than those who weren’t pregnant. In response, the Pink Pills were created. These were used well into the 20th century and though they have evolved and become more FDA-approved, these pills helped to keep iron levels up. This was one creation that was very useful in pregnancy in the early eras of true medical practice and pink color aside, could be found in many a family household… You’d just have to hope no one mistook them for candy.
3 The Remedy For Nearly Anything
Let’s just refer to the early 1900s as the “trial and error” period of medicine. You’d have found pills such as these that were intended to treat just about anything, from headaches to stomach indigestion. There were even advertised as “a great after dinner pill” and “invaluable to travelers”. We’re not so sure what’s in them in order to make them so “invaluable” but it was medicines such as these that encouraged a boost in the medical community to figure out what actually worked and what didn’t. As far as “Kickapoo Pills” and “Lage’s Headache Remedy”, we’ll stick with Advil and Pepto, thanks.
2 A Strange Birth Control Method Indeed
In Britain during the early 1900s, one of the responses to contraception was a “contraception sponge”. Yes, it works exactly how you think it works and no, we’re quite positive that it was relatively uncomfortable. This loofah-looking contraception method was invented by Dr. Marie Stopes and was actually encouraged by the Society for Constructive Birth Control. We’re pretty certain that women are still cursing her and them to this day since we’re all perfectly familiar with what a tampon feels like and imagine this is much, much worse.
1 A Weird-Looking Swimmer blocker
We present to you Chinosol Prorace Solubles, which were the answer in 1921 to finding a spermicide that worked. These were openly distributed and used as a pessary to prevent pregnancy. But hey, you had options with these scary-looking tablets! They were used on their own or in conjunction with a diaphragm or “the cap” and were one of the first, very crude, methods of preventing a fertilized egg. There were some other motives behind these tablets as well, as contraception was seen as a way of selective breeding. These were, of course, brought into conception by none other than Dr. Marie Stopes — The sponge lady.