Historical Influences on Birth

Historical Birth Influences - what are they?

So many times, our modern culture focuses on the fact that cesareans are now a choice and the technology and skills have improved.  So many times, birth in the modern world is promoted because we have epidurals and obstetricians and... well, those aspects cannot be denied.  However, I want to focus not on what technology didn't exist throughout the history of birth, but what the historical influences on birth were that actually may have improved the outcomes of birth compared to the modern day.

Historical Influences on Birth - Life

You birth how you live.  It is kind of that simple.  The historical birth would have experienced life in a way that better prepared the body for birth.  Nothing more than the daily actions (and non-actions) of living prepare the body to gestate, birth, breastfeeding and experience vitality in the childbearing years and beyond.  Now, this also means each culture would have seen their own influences of how they live on birth - most having really great outcomes.  Think way back before civilized America.  Too many times early America and Europe-before-America is the comparison to health statistics when people were either living in highly crowded unsanitary conditions or highly secluded conditions with mono-diets full of filler foods.

Historical Influences on Birth - Wild Food

Wild food is hardier.  Wild food germinates and sprouts in the conditions that support its growth the best.  This means they are, typically, growing in optimal conditions being fertilized naturally through forest decomposition and companion plants.  It will thrive in those conditions (or stop growing when it is not provided with them or overtaken by larger plants or invasive species).  A wild food will most often have more nutrients than its store-bought, farmers-market purchased, and even organically farmed counterparts - especially when the comparison is to a mono-culture of plants.  Hunter-gatherer cultures have increased nutrients in their body compared to western cultures, reducing the need for synthetic or whole-foods supplements.  Wild foods are highly diverse.  One wild fruit tree will never be the same variety as another wild fruit tree grown from the seed.  The seeds are designed to carry unique genetic codes to improve the health of the species.  We can relate this to what happens when humans mate with other humans who's genetic structure is similar to theirs - many complications physically and neurologically.

Adding wild foods (not seeds planted in rows in the forest - but foods that grow, seed and spread on their own) is one way we can improve modern birth in the way that a historical birth would have benefited.

Historical Influences on Birth - Movement

Movement was crucial for survival at one time.  This meant, even when someone didn't want to move - they had to from a very early age or they wouldn't eat or have shelter.  They not only had to move to hunt and gather their food, but also to process it.  A food processing movement now takes only the push of a button.  A food processing movement historically would have taken days of labor to not only create a quality tool to process the food, but then to process the food with that tool by hand.  It isn't just the movement that improves the whole healthy of the body, but the significant decrease in processed food due to the movement it took to create a processed food.

The other major movement influence on historical birth was walking and climbing with minimal to no footwear as well as bending and squatting for various needs, such as elimination.  This improved whole body alignment, especially in the pelvis area.  The soft tissue surrounding the pelvis was significantly more flexible and toned (round ligament and lower back pain would have been experienced to a much less degree).  This would have created a significant impact on not only the health and safety of the birth, but also the speed of labor and the birth phase.  While many tribal rituals appear to be barbaric to our modern culture, the daily life of the woman prepared her for this physiological task.  Wallis tells us in The Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada that, "a normal labor lasted two hours."  Each culture, of course would have had their differences just like the modern women that sits more than she moves will often experience a longer more physically demanding labor (or deal with symphysis pubis dysfunction).  More whole-body movement prior to childbirth (and pregnancy) typically equates to an easier labor.  Whole body movement does not equate to one style or a few styles of exercise; keep this in mind.

Historical Influences on Birth - Reverence for the Circle of Life (Not Fear)

The heartbreaking aspects of life are the most difficult topics for modern cultures.  I cannot even begin to pretend that I wholly understand what a family experiences through some of these most difficult times, even through various losses I have experienced myself and with my family.  What we do see, however, is that our culture is built on quantity of life and not quality of life.  We do see that the more disconnected cultures become in daily life, the more difficult it is to manage the times where our spirit must be supported from many angles.  Tribal cultures had a deep reverence for not just human life and death, but the place humans have in connection to the earth - giving thanks for everything that is received and thanks (because of understanding) when desired things are not.  The more we fear any of life's experiences, the more we fear birth.  The more we search for one thing or many things to save us, the less we rely on our own actions.  Making choices doesn't guarantee us anything (hospital, home, midwife, obstetrician, unassisted, herbs, medications, faith) - but it does allow us to be an active participant in this experience and better understand, or trust, outcomes when we have participated in the informed decisions of our life.  There can be a lot of healing in accepting that we will never know everything; our beliefs shape our actions and reactions.

Historical Influences on Birth - Birth Normalization

Though many historical cultures used a woman that had experienced many more births and had more knowledge of herbs than the others, most births that weren't unassisted, were attended by the family and friends of a woman who had a natural knowledge of birth and herbs because they were immersed in it from the time they were born themselves.  A young child would have fetched water or an extra set of hands to come when labor had arrived and these women were often mistakenly labeled as a "midwife" causing modern readers to relate that name to what they see in a care provider today.  Being someone that would have learned from their elders and having been immersed in [mostly] normal birth from when they were a babe is quite different than someone who learns western medicine, surgery and birth on your back from mothers that may be very ill-prepared going into pregnancy.  Modern birth is simply not like birth was from a culture that lived a life of survival which naturally developed the body for reproduction.  The historical birth attendant (usually the mother or mother-in-law) provided guidance on herbs and foods to use or avoid, and in many cultures offered regular abdominal massage throughout the pregnancy improving fetal position and maternal relaxation.  During pregnancy, she held space and provided calm energy.  Not much more was needed and in most cases hands and herbs did the trick where it was needed.

We can't address the normalcy of birth views without addressing the awareness historical cultures had on the number of pregnancies they experienced.  More babies would have meant a lot more work for survival of the tribe, so it wasn't common to have more than 2-3 kids in many tribal hunter and gatherer cultures.  Food sources, and even various stress levels, would have influenced the menstrual cycle and affecting fertility too for when natural food sources would have better supported pregnancy.  Additionally, through awareness of their body, physiological breastfeeding, and herbal uses, they would have naturally spaced babies and prevented pregnancy (yes, even more barbaric measures as well) to reduce the number of babies for their culture's needs.  Spacing their babies meant more time for the uterus and body to heal between pregnancies and to be in a physiological space best prepared to handle a pregnancy and birth.


just breathe Reflection Journal Prompt - Week 2


Reflect: List 6 practical goals for movement and health:

The Oxytocin Method creates actions that improve the biological function of your body - physically, emotionally and holistically to improve the natural hormone needed for spontaneous labor progression and a happy healthy birth.


While we can choose to utilize historical approaches to birth, we are also blessed to not have to use all their measures as well.  The biggest influences are our regular life choices that will affect our perinatal experience.  Can you see historical influences on birth that you can adapt to your daily routine which may positively influence your birth?