Why did women often die during child birth?

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Why did women often die during child birth?
« on: 25/02/2016 08:04:27 »
Before modern medicine the mortality rate for women giving birth was high (at least by 2016 standards). What was it exactly that caused them to die? Exsanguination from hemorrhaging caused by the baby?


Offline chris

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Re: Why did women often die during child birth?
« Reply #1 on: 25/02/2016 08:47:29 »
A range of factors were responsible, and haemorrhage was cetainly one of them. But infection - so called "Puerperal fever" - was a very significant player and this is at least in part owing to poor hygiene practices on the part of medical professionals.

The Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis made this connection in the 1840a and was the first to demonstrate that hand-washing could save lives.

His insight was to spot that doctors doing autopsies in the morning would present themselves on the wards in the afternoon with hands still laden with the muck they had picked up from bodies they had touched earlier. This muck - which we now know would have been laden with bug - was transmitted to the women they helped in obstetric wards, and presumably other patients elsewhere in the hospital too.

Midwives, meanwhile, who didn't do post mortems, had a death rate among their patients that was only a third that of the doctors, which led Semmelweis to suspect contagion or "cadaverous material" as the cause. The germ theory of disease hadn't been proposed yet though, so Semmelweis would have had no knowledge of microorganisms as the cause of disease.

His solution was to initiate a protocol of hands cleansing using chlorinated lime to remove the contamination. This led rapidly to a 90% drop in maternal deaths.

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Offline Colin2B

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Re: Why did women often die during child birth?
« Reply #2 on: 25/02/2016 08:48:14 »
It's unlikely there was a single cause.
Given the poor understanding of basic hygiene infection eg sepsis would be a real problem.
Nutrition was poor, so underlying health would also be poor.
Common disease eg TB would weaken and pregnancy would be the last straw.
There was little understanding of some of the complications of pregnancy eg preeclampsia, diabetes, and the build up of antibodies with some blood groups.
Also, no prebirth bed rest, many women had to work almost up to delivery - some reports of deliveries in the fields.
Overall, amazing anyone survived!

Edit: while I was typing Chris responded. Obviously his reply overrides anything I might say.
« Last Edit: 25/02/2016 09:16:42 by Colin2B »
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Offline syhprum

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Re: Why did women often die during child birth?
« Reply #3 on: 26/02/2016 21:29:41 »
Nature does not demand a very high birth survival rate for the species to prosper , it only needs females to survive to rear 3 offspring for the population to grow 200 deaths per thousand births would be OK  if not desirable !