Story: Pregnancy, birth and baby care

Pregnancy as illness

In the 19th century pregnancy and birth was commonly described as an illness – it was a physical condition often characterised by sickness and discomfort, and maternal and infant mortality was high. People in the Victorian era were discreet about bodily functions. In August 1871 Southland settler Kate Squires described, in very matter-of-fact language, the birth of her sister Emily's second daughter. Emily was 'taken ill' on the 8th:

8 T[uesday]. Fi[ne]. Up at six. Looked at cows. Made cakes and pasties. Swept and cleaned Em’s room. Jeannie ironed. Tim took up fence at ditch. Em helping me and knitting. Horace went to town. Em taken ill at eleven. Tim went for Dr Hodgkinson. Up all night.

9 W[ednesday]. Fi[ne]. Down at ½ past six. Milked. Up with Em all day, straightening, mending etc. Tim at big posts ditching. Jeannie baking (yeast making) and housework cleaning. Em had her 2nd daughter at ten minutes to eleven pm.

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Toitū Otago Settlers Museum
Reference: M69

Permission of the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

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How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Pregnancy, birth and baby care - Pregnancy attitudes, rituals and clothing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 January 2022)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 24 Oct 2018