DISEASES OF WOMEN AND CHILDRENIN ANCIENT EGYPT

Oct 2, 2010

DISEASES OF WOMEN AND CHILDRENIN ANCIENT EGYPT

The goddess Ritho giving birth to the god Ra assisted by midwives

Fertility was diagnosed by placing garlic in the vagina for one night. If the next day the woman can taste or smell it in her mouth, she is fertile. This is based upon the connection between the genital parts and interior of the body. Such connection would be lost in a case of obstructed Fallopian tubes. In modern medicine, phenolphthalein injected in the uterus would appear in urine based upon the same principle. A test known to gynecologists as “Speck’s test”.

Diagnosis of pregnancy and sex determination of the future child was based on the fact that pregnant urine germinates cereals more rapid then non-pregnant one. If the child was a male, the urine would germinate wheat, and if a female, it would geminate barley. The same tests have been used in Europe up till the Middle Ages.

Delivery was performed in the squatting position, with the woman supporting her arms on knees and sitting on two bricks. Difficult labors were aided by burning resin, or massaging the abdomen by saffron powder and beer. Abortions were done by introduction of warm oil and fat in the vagina. Contraception was also performed by the insertion of crocodile oil, gum acacia or honey consperge and natron into the vagina. Gum acacia when dissolved produces lactic acid, a very effective known spermicidal. The Ebers papyrus says

“To cause a woman to stop being pregnant, be it one, two or three years: part of acacia, colocynth, dates, finely ground in a hin of honey, fibers are moistened therewith, introduced into her vagina”.

goddess Ritho giving birth to the god Ra
The goddess Ritho giving birth to the god Ra assisted by midwives.

“Houses of birth” or “Mammisi” were annexed to temples. They were visited by pregnant women seeking divine help, rather than being a birth place.

Infants were breast fed for three years, and this was encouraged:

“Nothing is more lawful than one’s mother milk”.

Milk stimulants were resorted to, as mentioned in Ebers Papyrus:

“To bring forth the milk of a nurse who feeds sbj: who must feed a child: Spine of Nile-perch, fried in oil/fat, her spine is anointed therewith”.

Only when the mother failed to feed her infant, they resorted to cow milk.

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