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Maternity Wards in the 70’s

We’ve come a long way baby!

j0283941Some of the stories I want to tell are about maternity life as an OB nurse in the 70 ‘s. This is what I remember and not any type of historical reference. Try to picture this as I attempt to set the stage for some of the other stories I wish to tell.

When I first started to learn the business of birthing babies, I was taught by nurses who had already been doing this for 25 or 30 years…. They all wore scrub DRESSES not “scrubs” and some wore their nurses caps. These ladies were seasoned, experienced, somewhat hardened nurses and they referred to me as… “the young whipper-snapper”. This could be because I was practically a teenager, barely 20 yrs old !! I also immediately hemmed my scrub dresses up to a mini skirt length! Even though I was so very naive, I was very eager to learn and fell in love with the birth process…. I soaked up everything they taught me.

We probably had 700- 800 births a year at the time. Most vaginal deliveries stayed 4-5 days and Cesareans about 7 – 8 days. Seemed busy a lot of the time as far as the census.

Many of the mom’s in labor wanted twilight sleep and then opted to be “put under” which didn’t happened until they were moved to the delivery room, crowning. Seem so ridiculous now…I mean it’s just about over! Our Labor Rooms were doubles. No privacy, with one bathroom for 4 beds. When a mother was admitted to the labor room, she was given a full shave prep, and a soap suds enema. Remember, one bathroom for 4 beds. Fathers were NOT “allowed” in…. much later they were “allowed”..but only if they were married AND could produce a certificate of some kind that they had gone to a childbirth class!! Even then, just learning, I hated the regimented mentality and all the rules!

We did not initially have a fetal monitor. When we did get one, it was used only if the doctor thought there was a need or if we saw meconium. Mostly we used a DeLee-Hillis Fetoscope (looks like a unicorn on your head) or a Leff Fetoscope (a heavy round metal disc we called it a Leffscope). We would get fetal heat tones on admission and every 15 or 30 mins or so. I know there is a lot of controversy now about fetal monitoring. I get it…both sides of the debate. I respect that. In the 70’s, we didn’t have it, we didn’t know much about it so there were many unanticipated needs for newborn resuscitation. These poor girls would be in labor, often with out anyone to help them. Many of the nurses would be out having coffee and cigarettes while labor progressed until it was time to push. The nurses’ felt no obligation to be a “coach”. There was virtually NO paperwork compared to today. The mom’s would push in the labor room until it was time to go to the delivery room……THEN we would move this poor lady onto a stretcher, barely cover her with a sheet and head across the hall into the Delivery Room where she had to move once again onto the Delivery Table.

Before there were beepers…. The doctor would either stay in the “on-call” room, office across the street or he’d be at home. There were a few doc’s who loved to play tennis or basketball, there were courts at the college on the same side of the building as labor/delivery. On the weekends, we would use a window shade to signal when the doctor needed to come in for the birth! They were good about dropping the ball so to speak and running in when needed!

The Delivery Room was treated with the respect of an operating room. Everything had to be “sterile” and everyone had to be dressed like we were doing open-heart surgery. Blood was considered clean. we didn’t wear gloves to handle blood or birth fliuds! Sterile gloves were worn for sterile procedures and regular gloves were worn for handling contaminated items. We would crank crank crank the bed to move the bottom half away and the mom would get all draped up to her neck. For care of the baby, we used a Kreiselman Bassinet Resuscitator. This is an old green baby bed with a warmer over the top and oxygen/ suction/ positive pressure assisted breathing attachments. If the baby was in any trouble, we would call anesthesia to help if they were not already there giving the mom her requested “put me out” gases. Most babies were just fine, only sluggish and sleepy. If mom did get put out..she probably didn’t see her baby until many many hours later. Can you imagine? Twins were often a surprise…. this was before ultrasound. An episiotomy always seemed to be the norm. It wasn’t always a medial but often a big mediolateral episiotomy.

Once delivered, the baby went to the nursery and became the immediate property of the nurses, only to be seen from a window and allowed to be with the mother at token intervals. The poor little baby was often keep without food/ only water for the first 12 hrs. Breastfeeding was something only the hippies did in the early 70’s… the re-interest or rise in breastfeeding began in the later 70’s. The mother would be once again moved to a stretcher and taken to the Recovery Room where she was awoken, told if she had a boy or girl AND finally be allowed a visit by her husband.

I am so very happy that things are better now. Some of the stories I wish to share in the future will reflect the times and our knowledge as it was then.

My 1st Witnessed Birth


I can’t possibly start to tell these stories without a tidbit of the first birth I ever attended! This birth did indeed implant a desire for me partake in the miracle of birth over and over again!

The year is circa 1963. Living in our old 1811 saltbox farmhouse, all 5 of us ( my brother, sisters and I) are gathered in the large upstairs bathroom which was probably a bedroom at one time prior to indoor plumbing! Near the radiator on a bed of old towels, our beloved dog Dreena was giving birth to a litter of puppies! How excited I was at the age of 9! I was always an outspoken little girl… a “hoyden” my father so fondly called me. I had to try to be involved in the entire event. The first two puppies were born and Dreena was affectionately licking them. I was immediately sold on the whole thing.

A little while later, the third puppy was expelled with the amniotic sac intact…….Not waiting to see what happened next—I ran to my father to report!


“There are 3 puppies now and this last one came out in a plastic bag!!”

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Susan Peterson #

    I had my first baby in 73, second in 74, third in 77. I guess I was a hippie, because I nursed. The stories of those three births are on Unnecessarian.

    I do remember that you had to have a certificate from a childbirth course for the father to be allowed in, at my first hospital.

    You also had to have taken the course not to have your hands tied down.

    Some things are better now. Some things are worse.

    November 1, 2010
  2. Thanks for sharing your stories. I found your link in one of your comments on Unnecesarean’s page. I find the history of birth in America fascinating (and appalling).

    November 5, 2010
  3. kassedi #

    wow maternity care is different but not much better these days. when my mother was born at six months gestation in 73 they didnt allow my gramma to see her for i believe two days in case she died and they gave her somthing to dry up her milk without her permission. were things similar for premature births in the 70s at the hospital u worked at…..oh yeah the birth/labor room at where she had my mom was ten women one giant room with drapes in between woman.

    January 5, 2011
  4. This reminds me of what my mother-in-law told me about her births- her 1st was induced, and after a day of labor she was given a handful of pills that put her out, and she awoke to find out she had a boy a few hours before. Her 2nd was natural, right up until pushing- then they put her under again. Her 3-5th were c-sections, because “once a cesarean, always a cesarean.” Also, her sister was given something to dry up her milk without permission too… scary! Thanks for sharing!

    March 18, 2011
  5. May I link this blog post on my blog with your permission? This is such a great piece of history for those of us just starting out!!

    June 15, 2011
    • StorkStories #

      Yes certainly! Thanks for asking 😉
      I often think of extra tidbits but never get here to update it! I will get to it someday.

      June 16, 2011

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Cesarean Delivery of the Second Twin! ~ Baby A Vaginal~ Baby B C/S « Stork Stories… Birth & Breastfeeding
  2. OB Docs and Nurses Scoff at Homebirth « Stork Stories… Birth & Breastfeeding
  3. My Breast Pump and I didn’t get Along « Stork Stories… Birth & Breastfeeding
  4. Breastfeeding Evolution amidst the NICU Technology « Stork Stories… Birth & Breastfeeding

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