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As my husband and I get ready to welcome our third grandchild in May, I am thankful the birth will happen in this century, with its hospitals, ultrasounds, good nutrition, sanitation, epidurals, and scientifically based prescriptions and medical care.

Childbirth in the Middle Ages was very different. Babies were born at home. In aristocratic houses, think low-ceilinged, dark, cozy rooms. Think midwives and female friends. Think white magic. And above all, absolutely no men.

Even today, childbirth is not without risk or complications, but it is a lot safer. In the Middle Ages, more than one-third of adult women died during their childbearing years. So an impending birth must have been greeted with a mix of anticipation and anxiety.

For more, see my post about medieval childbirth on Unusual Historicals.

Masaccio  desco da parto

This image by Masaccio appears on a 15th century desco da parto, a tray used to bring food to a new mother while she recovers from childbirth in her lying-in chamber. When not in use, the trays were wall decorations (public domain image from Wikimedia Commons).