Midwifery is an old profession. Since ancient times, midwives have assisted women during the painful and difficult process of childbirth. Would you be surprised to learn that this age-old practice was once considered to be witchcraft? We know…it’s shocking when a female-dominated profession of the past somehow gets equated to witchcraft.

Early midwives were mothers without training


The earliest midwives were mothers themselves who assisted family members, friends, and neighbors during labor and childbirth. Though they lacked formal midwifery or medical training, they had extensive knowledge of herbal remedies and were able to perform many therapeutic services to make the birthing process more bearable.

Midwifery was a valuable occupation for women


In many societies through history, women were considered to be the property of men. The practice of midwifery provided married, older, and widowed women with an opportunity to earn a living on their own — one of the first and only professions available to women in many cases. The practice brought the women and their families status within their social arenas and were often well respected within their communities.

Midwife or witch?

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During the 16th and 17th centuries, but as early as the days of the Roman Empire, midwives were often accused and persecuted for being witches. The Inquisitors usually accused midwives of being witches when miscarriages occurred or if there were any complications of adverse affects from the birthing process. Some bizarre superstitions that surrounded the practice: Midwives were thought to kill the baby in the womb, offer them to the devil, or eat and drink their blood.

Midwives had many roles in Ancient Rome

History Travels with Nancy

In ancient Rome, midwives not only assisted women during childbirth, they also administered medicines to help improve fertility and even played an important role in legal disputes such as divorce. On the less noble side: Midwives were also known to examine slaves to ensure that they were sold as legitimate virgins.

Earliest laws on midwifery appeared in 15th century


Some of the earliest laws governing midwifery appeared in 15th century France. What did these laws try to reign in? The practice of sorcery among midwives, of course. Couldn’t let that get too out of hand. Later laws, however, were focused on the practice and development of the profession.