Even now, expecting mothers are inundated with conflicting messages about how to have a happy and healthy pregnancy. But the strange, confusing, and just plain bad advice for pregnant women from generations past is enough to make modern childbirth seem like a stroll in the park.
So You Think You Might Be PregnantH. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images
Nowadays, you can take a pregnancy test several days before you even miss your period and tweet the results to your entire family in two minutes flat. But just a few decades ago, detecting pregnancy was a lengthy and complicated process. When doctors in the early 20th century finally isolated the pregnancy hormone hCG, they would test for pregnancy in a woman by injected her urine into sexually immature rabbits or mice. After five days, they would kill the animal and examine its ovaries. If the rabbit's sexual organs were enlarged—the woman was expecting and congratulations were in order. For the mother. Sadly, not the rabbit.
What Not To EatLibrary of Congress George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images
Much of the historical diet advice for pregnant women focuses on steering them away from foods that are likely to disfigure or harm their unborn child. For example, according to The Distaff Gospels of the 15th century, eating the head of a rabbit (again with the rabbits!) would result in a child with a harelip and consuming soft cheese would make your unborn son's penis small. Other advice? Don't eat spicy foods or they will make your fetus blind.
Eat This For A Healthy BabyLibrary of Congress
Medieval physicians often advised pregnant women to eat "warm, dry foods" and to consume large quantities of red wine. Finnish tradition suggested that eating chocolate might make for a happy baby. And pregnancy cravings? Old wives tales claim that those are a sign of your new baby's favorite foods.
Think Happy ThoughtsSear Homes.org
Victorian doctors believed that the thoughts of the mother were transferred to the unborn child. A child's disposition, therefore, was heavily influenced (or blamed) on the feelings, experiences, and thoughts that a woman had while she was pregnant with her baby. Quiet, happy mothers made quiet, happy babies.
Wear A CorsetWordpress/Gwen Tuinman
The worst part about being pregnant during the Victorian era was looking like you were pregnant during the Victorian era. The only way to solve this was to follow the advice of clothing manufacturers and well-meaning mothers alike—make sure to wear a sturdy maternity corset. The good news was that, according to the corset makers, it was "good for the baby" (it kept him in just the right spot). The bad news was that breathing, eating, and sitting were all very difficult to do while wearing the corset.
Sex During Pregnancy? Not Unless You Want Baby To Be A PervertGeorge Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images
John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of Cornflakes, had some wonderfully repressive advice for husbands and wives regarding sex during pregnancy, around the turn of the 20th century: Just. Don't. "Sexual indulgence during pregnancy may be suspended with decided benefit to both mother and child. The injurious influences upon the child of the gratification of the passions during the period when its character is being formed, is undoubtedly much greater than is usually supposed. We have no doubt that this is a common cause of the transmission of libidinous tendencies to the child." In other words, Junior is going to be a pervert if mom and dad get it on. It's only nine months, guys! And then eighteen very long years.
Why Go Out When You Can Stay Home And Do A Handicraft?Marie Claire
Experts in the mid-1950s warned the pregnant mother against too much activity, suggesting that rest and relaxation were the best pursuits for the mother-to-be. "Late hours, stuffy rooms and excitement are not good. In these days of radio nobody need be bored at their own fireside. Praise the homelier pleasures – books, handicrafts, even the forgotten art of conversation." The radio, a handicraft, some conversation with...no one. 1950s pregnant mothers were a swinging bunch.
If You Do Go Out, Embrace Maternity FashionBlogspot/A Little Bit Of Everything
Once the corset finally went out of vogue and pregnant women could sit and breathe again, maternity clothing styles tried their best to be "fun" and "fashionable." Of course they had to do this while maintaining their real intended purpose: to hide the fact that the woman inside them was pregnant, which was a glaring reminder to the world at large that she WAS HAVING SEX. Pregnancy advice books from the mid-20th century suggest the modern woman wear "free-flowing" blouses and dresses to conceal her bump for as long as possible. After that, it was best she just stay home. For everyone's sake.
Smoke CigarettesEnvisioning The American Dream
In spite of the growing awareness in the medical community that smoking had a negative impact on fetal health, doctors did not warn mothers of these risks until well into the latter half of the 20th century. In fact, doctors even endorsed particular cigarette brands during the '40s and '50s, implying that certain brands were healthier than others. Some doctors during that same time also suggested that smoking made pregnant mothers "calmer" and thus had a positive impact on the unborn baby.
Don't Forget About His LaundryH. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images
As the pregnant mother draws closer to giving birth, much of the pregnancy advice from decades past centers around preparing for the experience of childbirth and recovery. But one helpful housewife offers this piece of advice from 1972, on making sure your husband is taken care of during your time of confinement. "Just make sure that, from now on, he always has a sufficient supply of clean laundry to see him through your absence. And if he's going to be home alone, stock the larder now with the kinds of foods he's able to manage." The kind of foods he's able to manage? There are so many things wrong with this last piece of advice, it's best just to end it there.