Quantifying the Impact of Medicalisation on the Distribution of Births over the Course of the Day

Evidence from Pre-industrial Russian Empire

In: Journal of Applied History
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  • 1 The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Division of Social Science, Hong Kong, China

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Abstract

Very few historical studies have been able to demonstrate the times of day when humans give birth in a ‘natural’ setting—i.e. outside of any hospital context or potential intervention. Two villages in the southwestern Russian Empire present rare examples of nineteenth-century baptism registers where time of birth were recorded. The evidence supports the thesis that ‘natural’ human births disproportionately occur between midnight and early morning. Evidence from the registers also show a seasonal effect, likely driven by the relationship between luminosity and melatonin production. The study, then, contributes to the ongoing debate regarding the medicalisation of childbearing, the deterioration of female autonomy in the sphere of childbearing, as well as other negative health outcomes. Historical evidence can demonstrate how far the circumstances of contemporary society differ from the ‘natural’ mode in something as fundamental as the time of the day when we give birth.

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