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Exhibition Label : Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics display (April - August 2008) - Anaesthetics and Childbirth

Anaesthetics and Childbirth

In 1847 James Young Simpson, Professor of Midwifery at Edinburgh University,
was the first to give both ether and chloroform to women during childbirth.
Doctors soon recognised that, whilst full anaesthesia was not desirable during
labour, the analgesic properties of chloroform and ether could be put to good use
in reducing pain. However, despite the doctors’ success, the use of anaesthetics
during childbirth was not universally accepted. Some objections were medical,
others moral:

‘It is a most unnatural practice. The pain and sorrow of labour exert
a most powerful and useful influence upon the religious and moral
character of women and upon all their future relationships in life.’
(Letter to medical journal The Lancet, 1853)

The tide turned in 1857 when Queen Victoria used chloroform during the delivery
of her eighth child. She praised ‘that blessed chloroform … the effect was
soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure’. The use of chloroform became
immediately popular.

It was not until the twentieth century, however, that machines were designed
specifically to produce an analgesic effect.

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