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date: 02 July 2022



  • Gillian Clark


Childbirth was generally the concern of women, either family and neighbours or experienced *midwives who were sometimes ranked as doctors, but male doctors expected to be called in for difficult cases. Several treatises in the Hippocratic corpus (see hippocrates (2)) include some discussion of childbirth. On the Nature of the Child ascribes the onset of labour to the movement of the foetus, which breaks the membranes. Diseases of Women says that prolonged and unsuccessful labour usually means a difficult presentation, stillbirth, or multiple birth. Suggestions include vigorous shaking to stimulate delivery, and drugs to speed labour (ōkytokia); if all else fails, the doctor may resort to embryotomy, the extraction by instruments of a foetus which is stillborn or impossible to deliver alive. The uterus is envisaged as a container rather than as a powerful muscle, and labour is described as pains not contractions. *Aristotle (HA 586b) notes that pains can occur in the thighs and the lower back as well as the lower abdomen, and that women can help delivery by effort and correct breathing.


  • Gender Studies
  • Science, Technology, and Medicine

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