Humoral Medicine | Pregnancy Birth and Infancy in the Middle Ages


Hello! Welcome to the baby historian, today we’re
going to learn why swaddling prevents grandma from freezedrying her newborn grandbaby, among
other verified humoral medical facts. warning, if you’re squeamish about bodily
fluids (or sex) then this probably isn’t the video you’re looking for. Humoral theory is a framework for understanding
the human body that persisted for at least 2000 years, with its origins in the ancient
Mediterranean world– Hippocrates in the 5th century bce and Galen in the 2nd century ce,
being credited with the form the theory took throughout medieval europe. Many ideas grounded in humoral theory, especially
those around infancy persisted into the 20th century, and we still use it today when we
refer to “catching a cold”. But keep in mind that very few people in the
middle ages would have had the care of a physician or surgeon trained in humoral medicine– and
even fewer people would have used one for pregnancy, birth or infant care– the majority
of people relied on laywomen, most often the matriarch of the family, to deal with health
care, and they tended to work with local herbal folkways and natural magic rather than humoral
medicine. Humoral theory posits that the human body
is composed of four humors, the word is derived from the greek χυμός (which
translates to juice). they are blood, yellow bile or choler, phlegm,
and black bile. Where did they get this idea? Maybe they watched blood separate? Or maybe it’s just from the experience of
being human. Most of us are aware of blood, phlegm, and
yellow bile, we’ve been cut, had a sinus infection, and experienced stomach flu or
food poisoning– but black bile, what’s that? As someone who lived most of her adult life
with an autoimmune condition but without access to healthcare, let me assure that if you vomit
long enough and hard enough, you’ll discover black bile when you’ve run out of yellow. Do not recommend. Thanks Obama! [truly, a life saver] Each humor had many associations but to keep
it simple, we’re going to focus on temperature and humidity. Blood is hot and wet
Yellow bile (choler) is hot and dry Phlegm is cold and wet
Black bile is cold and dry To explain the different sexes and changes
with age, it was believed that women were colder and men were warmer; the young were
moist the old dry. It was thought that men and women had the
same genitals, but the coldness of the female sex caused the penis and testicles to be inverted
in a female [scream] Oh my god I’m sorry! I thought this was the baby’s room! [laugh] I’m really sorry [shouting] I was in the pool! I was in the pool! it’s all about shrinkage. What is humoral medicine In order to have good health, the humors need
to be in balance, then as now, prevention is the best medicine, and a physician would,
after determining the unique humoral make-up of a patient (sanguine, choleric, melancholic,
or phlegmatic) prescribe dietary and lifestyle rules to help keep the
body in balance. But when that failed and disease was present,
the goal of the physician was to get rid of the excess humors causing the imbalance: fever
with sweating: obviously too much of the hot and moist humor of blood, therefore, bloodletting
was prescribed (and this does reduce a fever), but do not attempt. Stomach pain? Too much yellow bile, requiring purging through
emetics, laxatives, or enemas. Other treatments included intentional blistering
through topical preparations, but they weren’t all bad: they also included massage with special
oils and herbal baths. Excess humors could build up anywhere in the
body, including the reproductive organs, causing all kinds of disease throughout the body. For sexually active people, regular sex was
advised to expel excess humors, for men and women this required regular orgasms (in the
two seed theory, women needed to orgasm to become pregnant). In the middle ages, sex in marriage was considered
so important to health and happiness that even women could divorce husbands that failed
to perform. Unfortunately, there was no DIY solution,
masturbation was considered not only sinful but unhealthy, as it was likely to lead to
a humoral deficit. But what about people who were sexually mature
but not sexually active for whatever reason? [windchimes and wind whispers “loser”] how were they to expel
excess sexual humors? Become vegetarian. [vintage henry VIII) Meat, as a product of
sexual reproduction/live birth, was believed to increase carnal lust (note the root of
carnal is carne which means flesh, i.e meat), so celibate individuals were discouraged from
eating meat (and really, eating much at all) to reduce the build-up of sexual humors and
therefore the need for sex. (but as any vegan can tell you this is decidedly
bullshit) Back to the folks gettin’ it on: Infertility or miscarriage would be explained
by a woman (never a man) being too cold for seed to grow or too wet for the products of conception
to stick. The treatments for this would include dietary
and lifestyle changes to put the cold and wet humors into better balance with the hot
and dry humors. For example, eating more hot and dry foods
(not necessarily a description of temperature or moisture content for example, kale is hot
and dry but lettuce is cold and wet) you needed a physician to tell you During pregnancy, it was believed that the
fetus didn’t have a soul until after the 4th month (around the time the mother can
feel fetal movement, the quickening) before which
time miscarriage was more likely. In the Trotula it is explained that a pregnant
woman in need of blood letting for her own health, shouldn’t be bled until after the
fourth month to prevent the risk of miscarriage, “but when the soul is infused into the child,
it adheres a little more firmly and does not slip out so easily.” and it is still a fact
that 80% of miscarriages occur in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. It was believed that women had control over
the sex of her offspring– Women who wanted to conceive a male were instructed to lie
on their right side after sex, so the seed could be closer to the liver which they believed
was the source of the body’s heat and blood in order to produce the warmer male offspring.–
You knowww, temperature-dependent sex determination is a thing in biology… just not for humans.
(and for those that don’t know, male sperm is responsible for the sex of offspring; women’s
eggs are all x chromosomes, while male sperm contain x and y chromosomes, x and x create
female and x and y create male). Humoral heat was also believed to influence
the length of gestation. A woman with an abundance of hot humors might
bake that bun to full term at only seven months rather than the 9-10 of a normal colder woman…
now is this true? No, and it’s not really clear if physicians
at the time thought it was really true either but it’s a convenient excuse to cover for
an illegitimate birth and physicians needed patrons (just like I do). [wink gif] At the other extreme, a cold climate or season
might be the reason for a pregnancy going post-term, To induce labor, it was recommended to give
the pregnant woman a rub down in “hot” unguents Taking the baking analogy a bit further: when
a baby is born it’s brimming with warm, moist humors, it’s like a cookie right out
of the oven that needs time to set before it’s moved. But unlike a cookie, a baby can take a year
or more to set and in the meantime it’ll get squished from handling. So to ensure straight limbs and body, a freshly
born baby will have its arms and legs bound straight, and then be burritoed in swaddling
clothes and in some cases attached to a board for convenient transport. The swaddling bands not only helped the limbs
set properly, they help prevent the warm, moist humors from escaping. This was also the rationale for discouraging
old people from handling the new baby too much, they’d leech the heat and moisture
right out of it. Breastmilk was thought to be the same humoral
fluid as menstrual blood, converted by the pregnancy– thus menses stop during pregnancy
and breastfeeding, and why so many high born women (professional breeders) had someone
else to breastfeed so the blood (and fertility) could return to their womb. As well as why breastmilk was thought to be
lacking in quality if the woman providing it started having her period or became pregnant. Of course, it’s not accurate but whatevs. When the disease was present in the infant,
instead of examining the infant itself, the diet and lifestyle of the mother or nurse
were considered first. For example foods containing “sharp humors”
such as vinegar or tart fruits, were discouraged because it could cause a humoral imbalance
in the baby through the milk. Medieval parents had more than just tummy
trouble to worry about and for many of the conditions that would send a modern parent
rushing into their pediatrician or emergency room, a medieval parent had few options within
the humoral framework. In many cases, the general consensus at the
was that nothing medical could be done for infants with serious conditions as the treatments
to expel excess humors were considered too dangerous for the infant’s body. Thomas Phaer described the situation in his
1544 book: It
was because of this weakness of infancy and the limitations of their knowledge, the field
of pediatrics was one of the last to develop in western medicine, phaer being the first
in England to write a book exclusively on pediatrics In it he adapts humoral principles
while combining local folkways and natural magic which had been the province of women
healers (mothers) before physicians started taking over traditionally women’s roles. For more info on Phaer check out the video
linked above and subscribe for future video including one on medicinal magic. To review: humoral theory was an understanding
of the body codified by hippocrates and galen that persisted for at least 2000 years in
Europe. The goal of humoral medicine was to prevent
disease by keeping the humors in balance and or by expelling excess humor when it built
up and caused disease. however, for sick babies, there was little
that could be done within the humoral framework due to their weakness. Thanks for watching, if you have questions
or topic suggestions please leave a comment– or contact me on social media, links are in
the dooblydoo. If you would you like to support this kind
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