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Women's Issues and Childcare UK: early-mid 20th C


Prenatal care in 1960s Britain

I had my first baby in 1965. In those days pregnancy care was not like it is today.


The slow dawning of being pregnant

The understanding that a pregnancy was real dawned slowly.

There was no pregnancy test in the 1960s - at least not for ordinary women. If a period was missed, a woman wondered, and if a second period was missed, she went to her local GP.

The visit to the GP

The local GP - who always seemed to be a male doctor - didn't normally give any sort of examination, although some doctors did give a likely pregnancy confirmation by feeling externally for small differences in a woman's stomach.

For me, when I told my doctor that I had missed two periods, he didn't examine me. He just made an appointment for me to attend the local hospital to get myself registered as an expectant mother.

Registration at the hospital

The hospital didn't examine me, either. The staff there just worked on the assumption that because a woman was there, she must be pregnant. They just got her into the system, as, after all, she could easily be removed from it later if she turned out not to be pregnant. The 'system' involved taking blood pressure and giving out nutritional advice. I can't remember if there was a blood test, but I don't think there was. The woman was also allocated a pre-natal clinic which would monitor progress and run antenatal classes. I seem to remember that iron pills were prescribed, but I can't be sure.

So you can see how it was that the understanding that a pregnancy was real really did dawn slowly.

The confirmations of being pregnant

Still no examination.

Morning sickness was the first sign. Not that it was necessarily in the morning and it could have been an aversion to particular foods rather than actual sickness. I went off coffee; other women went off tea and others fancied large quantities of unusual foods.

Soon of course an expanding stomach gave the final confirmation, and women threw themselves into preparation for having a baby.

Antenatal classes

I dutifully went along to antenatal classes.

In general the talks told me what I am sure was no more than most of us already knew, and they were extemely patronising. For example, various foodstuffs were discussed while felt pictures of them were stuck onto a felt board. I do of course appreciate that the talks must have been better in some areas than in others.

Training for natural childbirth

There was a great emphasis on what was called 'natural childbirth' which was a form of relaxation supposed to counter the pain of childbirth. A lot of time was spent in the classes practising it. I believed in it totally, probably because, as a young woman, I had never experienced real pain and I was confident that so many experts couldn't be wrong in propounding it. I practised it daily at home. In the event, for me at least, I felt that it had been a huge con, as I had never before experienced so much pain. Presumably some women benefited.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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