View Full Version : The role of the sauna in bygone days

June Pelo
22-10-18, 21:14
New life

In Finland, the sauna was a place where new life began. "Formerly women gave birth at home, generally in the sauna or some other outbuilding," says Hilkka Helsti, who is writing her doctoral dissertation on rural women's accounts of delivery.
From the late 19th century onwards, women began to give birth in the house, but as late the 1940s many children were born in the sauna.
There were practical reasons for using the sauna for delivering babies: it was easy to heat water there and, as the dwellings were small and crowded, it offered the peace and privacy women wanted. In addition, the sauna was a sacred place of ritual.
Helsti points out that the idea of hygiene was quite different from the one we have today. "Although women often bathed before giving birth, the water poured on them was rather intended to relieve contractions than to clean. Women gave birth on the floor, which had been covered with straw or rags.
There was also a less noble reason for choosing the sauna for giving birth: pregnancy and delivery were considered shameful. Until very recently, all the preparations were to be carried out in secret: speaking about them in public, especially in front of men, was not "done", nor could a pregnant woman be seen in public.
After the delivery, the mother was isolated in the darkened sauna or a back room. She was not allowed to cook, tend the cattle or work in the field. "This isolation could last as long as six weeks, until she was cleansed in a church ceremony called "churching". Only after that could she lead a normal life and have dealings with other people," Helsti says.