How Did Vikings Give Birth?

Some of you may know that I recently wrote a short story called “Daughter of Ravens,” which is all about the birth of my character Haldis. If you’re interested, you can read it today via my newsletter!

As research for the story, I looked up everything I could find about how Vikings gave birth. Not the type of thing I ever thought I would research — but it’s been fascinating! Here are a few interesting things I’ve learned so far…

Vikings gave birth while kneeling

Women in childbirth started out kneeling, then bent over with their elbows on the ground as the birth progressed. That means they didn’t use birthing chairs or beds at all. In fact, the practice of giving birth on your back — so common today — didn’t start until the 18th century!

Mothers used runes for protection

Today, we have an idea of runes as a divination tool. But in Viking times, runes were more often used for protection. For example, runes were often carved onto physical items to imbue them with magical properties — and the same is true of mothers who needed protection during childbirth. I picture a völva painting runes on the mother’s palms while praying to the fertility goddess Frigg and the disir (female deities).

Some babies were abandoned

There is evidence of infants being left to die in Viking times, exposed to the elements. We can’t say for certain why the Vikings did this, but it is a sad reality. Many babies did not survive until childhood, so it’s possible parents abandoned weak infants. Without medical knowledge of what caused birth defects, I wonder if parents sacrificed infants born with obvious abnormalities. And more girls were abandoned than boys, which could indicate boys had a higher value in Viking society. Perhaps these poor babies were offerings to the gods.

The father had to publicly acknowledge the baby

Nine days after an infant was born, their father placed them on his knee to publicly acknowledge them as his child. This was part of the naming ceremony, and the child was sprinkled with water and given a gift. Given how much Vikings loved parties, I think it’s safe to say a feast ensued!

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