Postpartum Madness

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. Today’s post from Marystella Ramirez Guerra looks at an incident of ‘postpartum madness’ from the Jena Court of Law in the 1790s.

A 28-year-old woman was brought before the Jena Court of Law in the 1790s for murdering her only child.[1] Three years prior she had been a patient of Johann Christian Stark, sub-director of the new Jena birthing house. While a patient there she had given birth naturally and had lost very little blood in what was then considered the body’s naturally cleansing of impure blood during the postpartum period.[2] Failure to lose large amounts of blood was seen as problematic as it indicated that the body was unable to clean itself of the excess fluid accumulated during pregnancy. Excess accumulation of fluids in the body was thought to bring on illness and, in the case of fluids in the female body, it was believed the nerves were particularly affected.

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