A General Overview of Significant Events in the History of Childbirth in America Over the Past 300 Years 

Before 1700′s : Men were forbidden by law, and custom to attend childbirth

1700′s : Physicians first portrayed the idea that birth is a pathological condition that required medical intervention.

1750 : First recorded practices of medical intervention : Bloodletting to control hemorrhage.

1847 : Anesthesia first introduced into childbirth (Although it is criticized by colleagues who feared it would have an effect on labor, and the baby).  

1850 : Oliver Wendell Holmes blamed Doctors for the outbreak of puerperal fever.

1853 : Queen Victoria used Chloroform for the first time.

1900′s : In the United States, most babies were born at home. (90-95%)  and most of those births were attended by midwives.

1905 : First Maternity clothes were introduced, and women were no longer confined during pregnancy.

1908 : The American Red Cross starts to offer formal childbirth education. 

1910′s : Low horizontal cesarean sections significantly decreased infection, and ruptures.

1920′s :

  • Births moved from home into hospitals for those that could afford it and those who would like medication during childbirth.
  • “Twilight Sleep” is introduced in the United States, although it has been widely used in Europe for about 20 years. 
  • 1930′s : Births become split 50/50 between hospitals and home, and the number of births attended by midwives drops to 15%.

1940′s :

  • Women labored in large maternity wards where they were told to keep quiet, then give birth alone in sterile delivery rooms.
  • Routine enema’s and shaving were the norm.
  • Women were kept in the hospital for 10 days, and were not allowed to get out of bed 
  • The Lithotomy position was used almost exclusively and forceps were used frequently.
  • 1944 : Grantley Dick-Read published Childbirth Without Fear.
  • Mothers were separated from their babies to prevent infection.

1950′s :

  • 95% of women give birth in the hospital, and it is treated like a high risk experience.

1956 : La Leche League has its first meeting, as the breastfeeding rates are at an all time low.

1960′s :

  • Episiotomies became routine.
  • During labor, food, or anything by mouth was no longer allowed.
  • Elisabeth Bing founded Lamaze in the United states. 
  • The International Childbirth Education Association was founded

1965 : Bradley writes Husband Coached Childbirth and The Bradley Method was formed.

1970′s :

  • Fathers were allowed in the delivery room.
  • Continuous fetal monitoring was introduced without any kind of randomized controlled studies.

1977 : Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin was published.

1979 : 99% of all births took place in hospitals.

1980′s :

  • First large scale randomized studies of electronic fetal monitoring were released showing no benefit to EFM.
  • “The effect of a supportive companion on perinatal problems, length of labor, and mother-infant interaction" was published and includes the term Doula.

1990′s :

  • Childbirth Summit is held and Coalition to Improve Maternity Services (CIMS) is created.
  • Vaginal Birth After C-Section (VBAC) increased from 12.6% to a peak of 28.3%

1992 : DONA Doulas of North America was formed, and started certifying doulas for labor support.

2000′s :

  • WHO Guidelines support keeping baby with mother after birth to support skin to skin contact and immediate breastfeeding.
  • Two out of three women have an ultrasound.
  • Some hospitals have an epidural rate of 90%
  • VBAC Safety is questioned and the rates plummet.
  • Many hospitals refuse to allow women the normal biological process of giving birth after a previous surgical delivery.
  • Many women start seeking out alternative or midwife-assisted birthing options (birth center, homebirth) in response to the  rapidly increasing intervention use and C-Section rates.



Wertz, R. & D. C. (1989). Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America. Yale University Press