From changes in the body to what happens after a successful conception, the ancient Romans viewed a pregnancy in various stages. In this article, you will learn more about views and beliefs regarding this very important event in the life of a woman and couple.
First Pregnancy Stage
After a couple successfully conceives a child, the ancient Romans looked at the act as “the retention by the womb of the male seed.” One of the ways the Romans believed was a sign that a woman was pregnant was if she experienced a shivering sensation after intercourse. Her breasts would also become swollen, her limbs grew heavy, and she would no longer have a menstrual cycle. If she reported any of the symptoms, then the woman may have asked for a consultation with a midwife.
If a midlife determined a viable pregnancy, then the first wave of prenatal care would start. It was at this time that people focused solely on keeping the seed within the womb. During this time period, the Romans believed that many activities threatened the safety of the womb. They felt that many actions could dislodge it. Some of the factors included whether or not the mother expressed any strong emotions. Sudden movements were frowned upon and avoided at all costs. The Romans had a long list of actions that could harm a pregnancy, including “forced detention of breath, coughing, sneezing, blows and falls…lifting heavy weights, leaping, drunkenness, …flow of blood from the nose.”
The first stage centered on seed preservation. According to Soranus, the woman was confined to her bed for two days and was anointed with freshly ground oil from unripe olives. She would eat a light diet comprised of grains. Activities associated with relaxation (such as drinking wine or enjoying a hot bath) were avoided since they believed these acts could weaken the seed. Over time, activity and introducing certain foods to their diet would slowly increase. No more sexual intercourse was allowed , in an attempt to allow the uterus to rest.
Second Pregnancy Stage
This stage of pregnancy (often referred to as the ‘pica’ stage) started around 40 days after conception and lasted for about four months. General symptoms of this stage included nausea, upset stomach, fever, and dizziness. Even during ancient times, odd food cravings were noted , such as “earth, charcoal, tendrils of the vine, and unripe and acid fruit.”
When the symptoms of this stage first emerged, the woman was prescribed a fast that lasted one day, which was meant to prevent sickness and ease stomach discomfort. She was also given an oil rubdown. Small amounts of food that was easy to digest were given, including porridge or soft-boiled eggs. Cold water accompanied the meals. If a stomach seemed especially upset, the Romans would apply rose oil, myrtle, or unripe olive oil to the skin as a remedy. The oils would be held in place with a tightly wrapped woolen girdle. At this time, unhealthy foods (regardless of the cravings) are not given to the woman.