Help for Medieval Midwives

Rosalie Gilbert (author of The Very Secret Sex Lives of Medieval Women) brings you this remedy for delivering babies more comfortably.

Morgan Bible showing a new mother with her child in a cradle.

Morgan Bible showing a new mother with her child in a cradle.

Medieval birthing was a perilous affair at the best of times, and a small amount is written for the expectant mother and the physician who might attend her. 

Hildegarde von Bingen was an early medieval Nun and polymath who wrote extensively on many topics. She wrote treatices on the natural world and the properties of everything from botanics to music to minerals to foods to the animals which provided them.

Among her writings, we find advice to the expectant mother and the midwife who would be delivering her child. In this case, she offered advice for what we call today, a breech birth. Should the baby be facing the wrong way for delivery, she might assist with the remedy above.

As modern people, what do we think about this? Could there be any merit in an old medieval recipe?

Let’s examine the evidence. The flax seed creates a gel-like substance when cooked in water, which would have been very useful. Those who have cooked chickpeas are already aware that the liquid they are cooked in also becomes quite slippery.

A combination of the two together would have been perfect for making the birthing canal more pliant and slippery, thus likely to encourage a backwards baby. It seems that in this case, old remedies had actual use. It’s no wonder that these ideas were handed down and became folk cures and old wives’ tales.


The Very Secret Sex Lives of Medieval Women

An Inside Look at Women & Sex in Medieval Times

An inside look at sexual practices in medieval times. Were medieval women slaves to their husband’s desires, jealously secured in a chastity belt in his absence? Was sex a duty or could it be a pleasure? Did a woman have a say about her own female sexuality, body, and who did or didn’t get up close and personal with it? No. And yes. It’s complicated.

Romance, courtship, and behind closed doors. The intimate lives of medieval women were as complex as for modern women. They loved and lost, hoped and schemed, were lifted up and cast down. They were hopeful and lovelorn. Some had it forced upon them, others made aphrodisiacs and dressed for success. Some were chaste and some were lusty. Having sex was complicated. Not having sex, was even more so.

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