Whether it was an episode of Little House on the Prairie or an old Western film, it seemed that whenever a pioneer woman was about to give birth, bystanders were ordered to boil water. Was this just a screenwriter’s cliché? Or simply an excuse to get the men out of the room?Actually, midwives did require hot (not boiling) water to assist a mother as she gave birth. She would first use it to prepare warm compresses to apply to the perineum in order to prevent tearing during the birthing process. Then the leftover warm water was used to clean up both mother and baby. Remember, these were the days when there were no running water taps inside the house, and water had to be hauled inside by the bucket and then heated over a fire. Boiling water in advance made sure that there was plenty of warm water available when Junior finally made his appearance.By the way, even though it seems as though boiling water might have been part of a sterilization process, it wasn’t until 1880 that Louis Pasteur convinced folks that bacteria caused disease or infection.
on Jul. 27, 2011 at 11:27 AM