How giving birth has evolved over the decades

Ever noticed how trends ebb and flo over the decades? Whether that be in relation to baby names, parenting styles, vaccinations or birthing techniques. When it comes to anything parenting, our beliefs and social norms are progressive with their times.

Over the decades, birthing, medical advancements and how to care for maternal and infant safety has drastically changed. Of course this has meant the way women experience childbirth has drastically changes across the decades.

childbirth decades

When you think back to how our parents gave birth it was hugely different to the way we do it now. Cast your mind back further, to say 100 years ago, can you imagine how scary it must have been for women?

Here’s an interesting looking at how giving birth has changed over the years thanks to Redbook.

How birthing has evolved over the decades


A time well before maternity wards and public hospitals were widely available. Modern medicine was in its infancy and midwives were available, but commonly replaced by doctors (especially with the wealthy). Interestingly, anaesthesia was not yet used to aide in childbirth.

This was an era for ‘natural childbirth’, in the full meaning of the term.


Most babies continued to be born at home, however the first true ‘maternity hospital’ was created in 1914 so women were granted more options. Even though hospitals were becoming more regular, with this bought this introduction of ‘twilight sleep’, a drug cocktail of morphine and scopolamine.

This was an anaesthetic that caused mums to sleep for the entire delivery. Possibly a positive? But statistics show that mothers and their babies were more likely to die.


An era of medicinal revolution and change from natural childbirth to interventions and doctors aides. An era, which personally, causes me to cross my legs and never cluck again.

It went from labour being an entirely natural process to doctors who believe in pathological processes. Any normal delivery meant it was forcibly induced with doctors dilating cervixes, performing episiotomies, using forceps and extracting placentas. Ouch!


We are elbow deep in The Great Depression and while most families were suffering greatly financially, statistics show that nearly 75 per cent of births continued to occur within hospitals.

However, as hospitals, research and doctors were trained to intervene with childbirth to deliver a “safe childbirth”, stats reveal that there was a 40 to 50 per cent increase in infant deaths. Deaths that would otherwise be avoided if it weren’t for medical interventions.

This was also an era for revolution, with women starting to revolt against the use of twilight sleep (which continued to be used in nearly 100 per cent of births) as they could not remember their labours and deliveries.

birth across the decades


The world was changing with the official mark of World War 2 beginning in 1941. Doctor Grantley Dick published a book outlining the benefits and importance of natural childbirth.

While twilight sleep continued to be amazingly common, there was no scientific (and public) credence to prove that women deserved less invasive procedures to bring their children to life.

Along with Dr Dick’s research on natural childbirth, he also published text on understanding human sexuality. This meant women began to understand their bodies and reproductive organs at a larger scale.


Photographic evidence emerged of the conditions women had to endure while in twilight sleep. Some showed women tied to bed and covered in their own faeces. As such twilight sleep finally dropped in popularity and natural childbirth began to become popular again.

In this time foetal ultrasounds were invented and used to predict any medical problems (not to specify gender).


At this point, 99 per cent of births were within hospital grounds. Foetal monitoring systems were introduced allowing doctors to be able to read the foetal heart rate throughout labour and therefore able to predict an emergency situation. As a results the rate of maternal and infant deaths began to drastically reduce.

A major progression in women’s rights was the introduction of the birth control pill, which was approved by the FDA in 1960.


Finally a year of childbirth evolution. With twilight sleep completely demolished, the 1970s brought with it the encouragement of active labour and labouring techniques such as relaxation, hypnosis, breathing and water emersion.

With the 70s came to inventor of lumbar epidurals, however these were renowned for slowing down contractions, so the invention of picotin (labour induction) also occurred.

birth across the generations
Photo credit – Getty Images


A fairly uneventful year of childbirth revolution, it was the year the that birthing centres became available. Allowing women many more options in birthing than their predecessors. The use of doppler ultrasound technology was also introduced, allowing parents to hear the foetal heart rate for the very first time.


The 1990s was the decade for the mothers wishes to become heard and important. Finally a mother’s comfort and happiness was placed at a higher importance than the wishes of the attending doctors, with a belief that the better the mothers well-being the healthier the child.

Amniocenesis was also introduced in the 1990s, an amazing test the removes the amniofluid from the uterus and is able to test genetic abnormalities before birth. At this time, it also became routine to check the babies gender mid-pregnancy.


While most women still opt for birthing within hospital grounds, the 2000s was the year for home births to be reintroduced. With this also came a rise in c-section births.

For the first time in decades, maternal death rate began to rise to 13 in every 100,000 births. Researchers show that this rise could be due to the levels of obesity and c-sections (even though these are considered life-saving procedures).

How Women Have Endured Childbirth Over The Decades


The decade of two births, with an astounding 40 per cent of mums reporting they have set up a social media account for their newborn baby. The 2010s are the decade of the modern mum and while most still opt to birth in hospital, home births and birthing centres are soaring in popularity.

The majority of millennial mums, about 80 per cent are reported to prepare for drug-free and natural labour. However two-thirds of women will ask for an epidural once labour begins.

To read the full article visit here.

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written by:

Jessica Black

Jess is a fiercely passionate storyteller who is mad about fitness and wine drinking, usually not at the same time. She’s a freelance writer who juggles being a mummy to three and hospitality work. When she’s not busy tapping away on her keyboard with a smile on her face she’s chasing the kids or jogging on the beach.