What Does Bedwife Mean?

Discover the meaning and significance of the term ‘bedwife’ in medieval history, exploring the roles, responsibilities, and impact of these essential caregivers.


Within the context of medieval history, the term ‘bedwife’ may hold various meanings and connotations. Let’s delve into the origins and significance of this term.

Understanding the Term

A bedwife was a woman who attended to a woman in childbirth, providing assistance and support during the labor process. This role was crucial in a time when medical facilities and practices were limited.

Roles and Responsibilities

Bedwives were responsible for easing the pain and discomfort of laboring women, offering emotional support, and ensuring a safe delivery. They often possessed knowledge of herbal remedies and traditional birthing techniques.

Historical Significance

Bedwives played a significant role in medieval society, as childbirth was a dangerous and unpredictable process. Their expertise and care were essential in ensuring the well-being of both the mother and child.

Examples of Bedwife Practices

Historical accounts reveal the various methods and techniques employed by bedwives to aid in childbirth. From massages and herbal teas to positioning and breathing exercises, bedwives utilized a range of tools to facilitate a smooth delivery.

Case Studies

One notable case study involves the renowned bedwife Agnes Waterhouse, who was accused of witchcraft due to her unconventional methods of assisting women in labor. Despite the controversy surrounding her practices, Waterhouse’s skills were highly sought after by women in need of childbirth assistance.


While exact figures are difficult to ascertain, historical records suggest that bedwives were prevalent in medieval Europe, particularly in rural communities where access to medical professionals was limited.


The term ‘bedwife’ represents a significant aspect of medieval history, shedding light on the role of women in childbirth and the challenges they faced. The legacy of bedwives continues to resonate in modern midwifery practices, highlighting the enduring value of their contributions.

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