This Is What Being Pregnant Was Actually Like In The 1950s

These days, there are many books available that aim to prepare parents for pregnancy and life with a newborn. But imagine if a doctor said you should avoid reading while waiting for your new arrival. Well, it wasn’t long ago that doctors recommended just that, along with all this other advice that, today, just seems bizarre.

20. Avoid breast feeding

Many moms in the 21st century believe that “breast is best.” Indeed, breastfeeding an infant is believed to pass on nutrients from the mother. It also helps build up a baby’s immune system, which defends them from illnesses and infections, as well as supporting their all-round development. That idea, however, is a relatively new one.

Believe it or not, in the 1950s, breastfeeding was discouraged by many doctors. Despite being the natural way to provide nourishment to a baby and being practiced for millennia, someone suddenly decided it was a bit, well, icky. Instead, healthcare professionals advised new moms to feed their infants formula to avoid spreading germs.

19. Hands off the baby bump

Today, it’s understood that babies can feel and hear things in the womb as early as 18 weeks into their development. At around six months, it’s thought they can even respond to those sensations. Rubbing a pregnant belly, then, is believed to help form a bond with a baby. And can even be soothing when it’s unsettled.

Decades ago, however, the act of rubbing a pregnant belly was thought to have a very different effect. At best, some thought movement against an unborn child would cause some kind of damage, or “spoil” it. Moreover, there was an extreme superstition that the motion would summon evil spirits to substitute the child’s soul with its own.


18. Crying is good for a baby

There are many things that make babies cry, and it’s challenging for new moms to work out what the problem is. The important thing to know, however, is that there is probably a very good reason for it. Therefore, a mother isn’t giving in to unreasonable demands by comforting her crying infant.

However, in bygone times, some believed young lungs needed regular exercise to fully develop. And author Mrs Sydney Frankenburg made this quite clear in her 1946 book, Common Sense In The Nursery. She wrote, “If nature is regularly thwarted by some well-meaning person who picks up the baby and distracts his attention after the first squeak, there is a risk of lungs remaining almost unexpanded.”


17. Dad’s weren’t allowed in the room during labor

It can be comforting for a mom giving birth to have her partner by her side in the 21st century. In fact, why not invite the whole family? Maybe throw in a photographer or videographer for good measure. After all, a new baby isn’t something that happens every day, and is an unforgettable moment to be savored.

In years past, though, mom was on her own. Sure, there were a handful of nurses and a midwife to assist in the delivery, but dad was to keep his distance until a few hours after the baby arrived. It seems that a woman had to prove her strength during labor as some kind of parental rite of passage.


16. Stay off bumpy roads

There have long been theories about actions a mom can take to hasten the baby’s arrival at the end of a pregnancy. Things like sex, exercise, acupuncture, raspberry leaf tea and even eating spicy food are said to naturally induce labor. However, despite what you might have heard, taking a drive along a bumpy road isn’t one of them.

In the ’50s, due and overdue women would convince their husbands to drive them on bumpy roads. Many believed that the bouncing motion would speed up labor. There is, however, no evidence to support the idea, no matter how rough the terrain. But if you happen to enjoy bouncy rides, it won’t do any harm either.


15. Do not raise your arms

Women have been known to do extraordinary things while pregnant. For instance, tennis player Serena Williams scored yet another victory at the Australian Open while two months pregnant in 2017. But there was a time when doing something as innocuous as reaching up and grabbing something from the top shelf was considered overdoing it.

Yup, during the ’50s, raising your arms above shoulder level when pregnant was thought to cause harm to unborn babies. Apparently, the movement might cause the child to shift in the womb, resulting in the umbilical cord becoming wound around its neck. It’s a theory that has, thankfully, long since been debunked.


14. If you were pregnant, you were advised to stay in bed

Today, some moderate exercise is actively encouraged during pregnancy. For instance, a brisk walk lasting 30 minutes every day is known to help reduce the less pleasant aspects of being pregnant, and can lead to better quality sleep and and a stable weight. It may also make for an easier labor. But that wasn’t always the way.

In the 1950s, exercise was actively discouraged for pregnant women. Indeed, they were treated like quite the invalids, instructed to get as much rest as possible and avoid doing anything too… Well, anything at all really. Bed rest was the order of the day, as if pregnancy was some sort of debilitating disease.


13. Stay out of family bickering

Family infighting is something we’d surely want to avoid whether pregnant or not. But, even if the conflict doesn’t involve you, the negative atmosphere of a domestic feud can be stressful. Indeed, avoiding stress is a good idea for expectant women whatever the cause. In the 1950s, however, it was believed to have serious consequences.

Back then, doctors advised pregnant women avoid getting involved in family arguments. They believed that the stress created by such negative exchanges would increase the risk of stillbirths and miscarriages. And while excess tension can be harmful to an unborn child – with high blood pressure linked to premature births – miscarriages and stillbirths are unlikely.


12. Baths were forbidden

Seemingly at the opposite end of the spectrum, baths were also off the agenda for expectant moms in the 1950s. Today, you might think that bathing is a good way to relax and relieve any unwanted stress. It’s also possible that a good, long soak will ease some of the inevitable aches and pains of pregnancy.

However, it was once thought that bathing could cause harm to a fetus. Doctors, therefore, strongly recommended that pregnant women avoid having a soak. They thought it was possible for water to seep into the uterus and damage the growing baby. But, of course, we now know that it can’t and it won’t.


11. Don’t eat spicy foods

Then, of course, there’s spicy food. Some believe that consuming it can induce labor if a pregnant woman is close to, or beyond, her due date. However, although consuming a hot curry might have some effect on those who have shown the first signs of labor, there’s no solid evidence to back-up that idea.

But for past generations, spicy meals were off the menu entirely. In fact, doctors recommended that all foods with too much flavor be avoided. It was believed that hot dishes in particular could harm the baby, causing blindness, early labor or even miscarriage. This, of course, has since been entirely debunked.


10. In fact, don’t eat anything

You’ve probably heard of the concept of “eating for two” in relation to pregnancy. However, it’s not recommended to pile on the pounds if you’re expecting a child. The extra mass can, in fact, cause complications such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. But there was another reason previous generations were encouraged to keep their weight down.

An issue of McCall’s Magazine published in 1956 recommended a stringent diet for pregnant women to promote a slender figure. Today, however, advice is better informed. And although it’s not a food free-for-all, women who in their second trimester are encouraged to increase their calorie intake by 15 to 20 percent for a healthy pregnancy.


9. Smoking and drinking was encouraged

As you can see, being pregnant in the 1950s wasn’t a huge amount of fun. It was a time when women faced numerous restrictions on food and activities while expecting. However, some things that physicians recommended back then we now can cause harm to a developing fetus. Believe it or not, smoking and drinking alcohol were actively encouraged during pregnancy.

Moreover, it wasn’t unusual for expectant mothers to be offered a drink during routine checkups, all while the doctor puffed away on a cigarette during the appointment. Professionals believed that smoking and drinking actually helped reduce stress and generated a more relaxing pregnancy. It’s very different today, of course. Simply: don’t do either while pregnant.


8. Don’t get a haircut

Of course, the arrival of a new baby takes a lot of preparation. Which means that pampering herself might not be very up on a mom-to-be’s agenda. But, in another frankly bizarre advice gem from decades ago, such indulgences were not encouraged anyway. And women were particularly discouraged from having haircuts while pregnant.

Back then, it was thought that having a haircut, even a trim, while pregnant might harm the baby’s eyesight. Worse still, some believed a child’s life would be shortened or they’d suffer developmental problems. It sounds ridiculous now and, indeed, there’s no risk whatsoever. Nevertheless, it’s still not recommended to dye your hair while pregnant.


7. Don’t go to sports events

It’s already been established that pregnant women in the 1950s were discouraged from taking part in any physical activities. But they were also advised against attending sporting events even as passive observers. Online magazine Mental Floss once described a guidance manual from the 1940 and ’50s which made that very suggestion.

Sports events can be the source of extreme emotions, both high and low. For instance, the elation felt when your football team scores a touchdown stands in stark contrast with the disappointment of walking away as the losing team. The emotion of sporting events, then, was believed to be too much for pregnant women. And, therefore, they must not attend.


6. Don’t look at animals

If you thought 1950s’ pregnancy advice couldn’t get any weirder, you’re in for a shock. To any mom, their child is probably the most beautiful in the world. But woe betide any expectant mother if they happen to cross paths with an animal while pregnant. Why? Because simply looking at it was thought to bring dire consequences.

If a woman saw an unattractive creature during her pregnancy, it’s thought there would be negative effects. At best, people believed your child would pop out resembling that animal, and, at worst, would adopt some of its behaviors. However, while children are prone to be curious explorers, this theory is otherwise complete nonsense.


5. Stay away from funerals

So far, much of the advice for pregnant women in the 1950s revolved around theories with no basis in medical research. And here’s another one: Expectant moms should not go to funerals. Now, attending this most solemn of gatherings is surely something no one wants to do, but the reasoning is, well, odd.

Some thought that pregnant women attending funerals opened themselves up to bad luck. Others suggested being present at those services left expectant moms vulnerable to evil spirits. These entities might then infiltrate the fetus and sacrifice it, causing a stillbirth or miscarriage. However, we now know that to be absolute nonsense.


4. No reading allowed

Pregnancy advice in the 1950s clearly relied heavily on superstition rather than any scientific fact. However, it’s at least possible to argue that some pursuits it advised against could bring bad luck. But, for others, as well as a lack of tangible reasoning, it’s hard to find any imperceptible risks. Take reading, for example.

Previous generations of women were actively discouraged from reading while pregnant. As with attending sporting events, any sudden plot twists or over-stimulating story lines in a novel might cause too much excitement or anguish, thus causing harm to the baby. All of which means there wasn’t a huge amount for expectant moms to do during the ‘50s. Except smoke and drink, that is.


3. The full moon effect

The Moon can have a powerful influence on what happens on Earth. For instance, we know that it affects the ocean and its tides. And some animals can behave erratically when it’s full. But there was a time when people believed there was a lunar influence over when a baby was born.

Indeed, maternity wards would prepare for increased activity whenever there was a full moon in the 1950s. It was thought that the celestial event could somehow induce labor in women close to their due dates. But, like everything else on this list, there’s no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the theory.


2. Don’t utter the words “pregnant” or “pregnancy”

It seems that just about any leisure pursuit was ruled out for pregnant women in the 1950s. Therefore, it might have been tempting for an expectant mom not to tell anyone she was pregnant at all. In fact, since the words “pregnant” and “pregnancy” were taboo anyway, it was a tricky subject to broach.

Attitudes toward pregnancy have, clearly, changed a lot over the years. In the 1950s, however, women were encouraged to hide their bumps. And maternity clothes were designed to do just that, as if having a baby were a dirty secret. Today, thankfully, the occasion is a source of celebration, with parties like gender reveals and baby showers.


1. Keep a knife under the pillow to reduce labor time

Giving birth, however “easy” it comes for the mother, is never fun. The agony of labor can be excruciating. And although pain relief medications have advanced over the decades, it’s unlikely that a woman will feel nothing at all. But in the 1950s, there was a novel way to, shall we say, cut labor time.

Back then, doctors thought that sleeping with a knife under the pillow would decrease the pain felt during labor. And size mattered, with larger blades having a better effect, as did the length of time it lived on the bed. It’s nonsense, of course. So if you ever find yourself in the delivery room, just huff away at the gas and think of the bundle of joy you’ll have when it’s over.