Rome, 1st cent. A.D. (Soranus Gynaecology 1.67-9, exc. L)

For normal childbirth have the following ready: oil for injections and cleansing, hot water in order to wash the affected area, hot compresses to relieve the labour pains, sponges for sponging oft; wool for covering the woman’s body, and bandages to swaddle the baby in, a pillow so that the infant may be placed on it below the mother until the afterbirth has been taken away; scents, such as pennyroyal, sparganium, barley groats and quince, and if in season citron, or melon and anything similar to these, for the recovery of the mother’s strength; a birthing stool so that the mother may be arranged on it … a wide space in a crescent shape must be cut out in it [of a size appropriate] … to prevent the woman from being pulled down beyond her thighs because the opening is too great, and on the contrary to prevent her from having her vagina pressured by its being too narrow (which is a greater problem); … two couches, the one made up with soft coverings for rest after giving birth, the other hard for lying down on between labour pains … When the mouth of the womb is open, and the midwife has washed her hands with hot oil, she should put in her forefinger (with the nail cut) of her left hand, and by gently drawing it arrange the opening so that the accessible part of the amniotic sac falls forward, and with her right hand she should apply oil to the area … When the amniotic sac takes the size of an egg beneath the mouth of the womb, if the mother is weak and tense, one must deliver her while she is lying down there because this method is less disturbing and frightening … Three women should stay ready who are able gently to calm the fears of the woman who is giving birth, even if they do not happen to have experience in childbirth. Two should stand on the sides, and one behind her so that the mother does not lean sideways because of the pain. If no birthing stool is available the same arrangement can be made if she sits on a woman’s lap … Finally the midwife, with her dress belted up high in an orderly way should sit down below beneath and opposite the mother.

The midwife should then sit holding her thighs apart and with her left thigh leaning to support her left hand, in front of the mother as previously specified … Then it is good for the midwife to be able to see the face of the mother, so she can calm her fears and assure her that there is nothing to worry about and that the childbirth is going well … The midwife should guard against holding her face towards the mother’s lap, lest she in modesty pull her body up; instead she should circle round the mouth of the womb with her finger …[1] She should order the other woman who is holding her from behind to hold the mother’s anus with a linen cloth, lest it be pushed out with her straining. If indeed the amniotic sac remains unbroken for a long time, she should break it with her fingernails and put her fingers in it and little by little open it wider. She should take care that the infant not fall out at once … the helpers standing on the side, without shaking her and with open hands should bring the uterus downwards. When the infant tries to come out, the midwife should have a cloth in her hands to pick him up.


1. Since the Greek text is defective here, the description of bringing the baby out is taken from the sixth-century Latin summary by Muscio, 1.66a.