18th-Century Childbirth Mysteries

In a midwife’s journal from the 1700’s, a couple of references are made which stump me. The first, which occurs several times, is to “removing obstructions” prior to a successful delivery. Does this refer to some kind of birth canal blockage, or something more innocuous - such as furniture blocking the midwife’s path to the mother?

The second is to a more exotic complication in which an infant boy “expired with his breasts full of milk.” There’s no explanation for this in the editor’s source notes - any OB/GYNs out there who can identify this condition?


IANAOB/GYN, but a male fetus is exposed to alot of female hormones while in the womb and that could cause a male infant to lactate for awhile after birth.

My little girl was born both lactating and bleeding vaginally thanks to my hormones.

“Removing obstructions” could refer to a number of things - breaking the amniotic sac, clearing the last of the mucus plug out of the cervix or manually effacing and opening the cervix. The midwife at the last birth I attended did this last one - simply reached in a pushed the cervix aside a little bit with each contraction. The baby’s head kept catching on the last bit of the cervix, you see, so she simply moved it out of the way so he could make it over the speed bump.