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Thanks to having 22 children with his wives (and mistresses), King Louis XIV developed a fascination with birth that has lasting influence today.
Up until he entered the scene in the late 1600s women gave birth in most cultures around the world kneeling, squatting, sitting or standing. A bas-relief at the Temple of Esneh in Egypt even depicts Cleopatra giving birth on her knees (surrounded by five female attendants) way back in the BC era.
But although kneeling and squatting worked best for women for all of human history up until Louis' time, those positions lacked one thing he couldn't deal with – a view.
"Some scholars claim that the change in birthing position was a perverted caprice of King Louis XIV," Professor Dundes wrote in the American Journal of Public Health, "Since Louis XIV reportedly enjoyed watching women giving birth, he became frustrated by the obscured view of birth when it occurred on birthing stool."
He reportedly insisted a "birthing table" be designed, then watched while his mistress gave birth to one of his illegitimate children.
To be fair, it wasn't just Louis who came up with the idea.
The lithotomy position so many of us have found ourselves in (reclined on a bed, spread eagle, often with feet in stirrups) was promoted by Francois Maurice in his 1668 book The Diseases of Women with Child and in Child-Bed. That title is a clear indication of his line of thinking, as he went on to refer to pregnancy as a "tumor of the Belly" caused by an infant.
He argued that a position reclining or lying down in bed was not only more comfortable for the laboring woman, but more convenient for her doctors.
That being said, it still seems King Louis' power and resulting influence can be blamed for popularizing giving birth lying down.
"The influence of the King's policy is unknown, although the behavior of royalty must have affected the populace to some degree," Professor Dundes wrote. "Louis XIV's purported demand for change did coincide with the changing of the position and may well have been a contributing influence."
Who would want to give birth squatting like a peasant rather than lying down like a royal lady? Everyone should be the answer, yet 300 years later many of us (including myself, twice) still labor and deliver on our backs – a position that can narrow the birth canal by up to a third.
Pretty crazy to think a long-dead king with kink may have contributed to those 20+ hour labors I endured. Wish I had known more about this during my pregnancies and not just assumed lying flat on the bed was the way things were done.
Check out more on positions for labor and birth from the our site Experts.
What position did you give birth in? How'd that come about?
Images via Wikimedia Commons
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.