Maybe some anthropological material anyone has on childbirth could be collected in a thread. It seems like it might be an interesting topic.

My understanding has always been that it was relatively easy in hunter-gatherer societies. I have seen accounts that describe women dropping out when the people were on the move, giving birth, picking their baby up, and catching up again. But I can't at the moment locate any source that describes anything like that.

I think the subject is interesting, because it seems now to have become so relatively difficult. Witness the recent story of overweight pregnant women in the UK being given metformin (sic) for the following reason:

Metformin will be given to half of the expectant mothers taking part in the trial, from 12 weeks into their pregnancy, with the other half receiving a placebo . It is hoped the treatment will prevent the birth of overweight babies and bring down the need to carry out caesarean sections as well as pre-eclampsia
I alo recently recall comments by Dr. Shanahan in Deep Nutrition to the effect that a diet high in sugar and vegetable oils interferes with hormone signalling, so that the bones of a woman's pelvis may not grow as wide as they should. She says that now only some 10% of women have the "hourglass" figure, although that is what is biologically normal. And this, again, would lead to the need for increased Caesarean sections.

Now in nature one assumes that conception, pregnancy, and childbirth must go fairly smoothly. If a caribou needed a hospital, a range of expensive machines, pethidine, and surgeons standing by to deliver by surgery if needful, there'd be no caribou. (Farm animals, of course, might well need a vet, or at least the farmer to assist -- one farmer I heard of who put, IIRC, Charolais bulls to Jersey cows -- used a block and tackle to aid the delivery of the calves.)

Surely, matters must once have been much easier in humans -- before, perhaps, dietary changes. Changes in the way people use themselves (so called "postural" changes) might also be relevant: e.g., do they sit by squatting or using chairs?

Presumably, birth was not always easy even for women from fairly traditional societies. The birth of Sacagawea's first son, related in Lewis and Clark's journals didn't go particularly smoothly. However, a few mouthfuls of ground-up rattlesnake seems to have done the trick, if only by means of the placebo effect. And, as I recall she was up and around again and undertaking a pretty gruelling journey soon after. The reference is here:

Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online* February 11, 1805*



I thought a quick trawl through the Old Testament of the Bible might also be interesting. There you have the self-understaning of a society that transitioned from herding to agriculture. Herding, in Vilhjalmur Stefansson's opinion, is functionally pretty much equivalent in dietary terms to hunting and gathering.

(In this respect, note that there was always a tension there with the Israelites tending to adopt the religious practices of the surrounding agricultural peoples and getting rebuked by the prophets for doing so. See 2 Kings 23, where the priests of Baal are put down and the houses of temple prostitutes that had been attached to the Temple in Jerusalem torn down. Or see the public contest between Elijah and the priests of Baal in 1 Kings 18 for control of the weather -- something that an agricultural god really ought to be able to control.)

So ... there are references to midwives in the Book of Exodus -- for example:

And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Exod. 1:19
There is also the reference to childbirth in the myth of the expulsion from the garden: "... in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children ..." And I wonder whether what we have there is quite an old story here that was re-interpreted at a later date by the Ancient Israelites in the light of their current experience. Is this a view of childbirth that a agricultural people might have?

Interestingly, if one does a search across the text of the Bible (the Authorized Version or 1611 -- known in the U.S. as the King James Version) for the phrase "in pain" every single Old Testament reference is to childbirth:

Search: in pain



Anyway, has anyone else got any references from the literature, particularly in respect of childbirth among hunter-gathererers or animal herders?