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A mother in Florence lying-in, from a painted desco da parto or birth tray of c. 1410. As women tend to the child, expensively dressed female guests are already arriving.

Lying-in is the term given to the European forms of postpartum confinement, the traditional practice involving long bed rest after giving birth. The term and the practice it describes are old-fashioned or archaic, but it used to be considered an essential component of the postpartum period, even if there were no medical complications during childbirth.[1]

A 1932 publication refers to lying-in as ranging from two weeks to two months.[2] It also does not suggest "Getting Up" (getting out of bed post-birth) for at least nine days and ideally for 20 days.[2][3] Care was provided either by her female relatives (mother or mother-in-law), or, for those who could afford it, by a temporary worker called the monthly nurse. These weeks ended with the re-introduction of the mother to the community in the Christian ceremony of the churching of women. When lying-in was a more common term, it was used in the names of several maternity hospitals, for example the General Lying-In Hospital in London. Up until the 1970s, standard NHS postpartum care involved ten days in hospital, with the newborns taken to the nursery overnight, ensuring the mothers were well rested by the time they returned home.[4]

Social aspects[edit]

Women received congratulatory visits from friends and family during the period, and among many traditional customs around the world the desco da parto was a special form of painted tray presented to the mother in Renaissance Florence. The many scenes painted on these trays show female visitors bringing presents, received by the mother in bed, while other women tend to the baby. Equivalent gifts in contemporary culture include baby showers and push presents.

No fixed term of lying-in is recommended in Renaissance manuals on family life (unlike in some other cultures), but it appears from documentary records that the mother was rarely present at the baptism, in Italian cities usually held within a week of the birth at the local parish church, normally a few minutes' walk from any house.[5]

In art[edit]

In art, the immensely popular scene of the Birth of Jesus technically shows the Virgin Mary, who reclines on a couch in most medieval examples, lying-in, but in famously un-ideal conditions. More ideal images of lying-in in well-off households are represented in the subjects, also popular, of the Birth of the Virgin and Birth of John the Baptist. These are generally given contemporary settings, and differ little from other images that are purely secular, especially those on desci da parto.


  1. ^ The Prospective Mother: A Handbook for Women During Pregnancy, J. Morris Slemons 1912.
  2. ^ a b Lying in by Jan Nusche quoting The Bride's Book — A Perpetual Guide for the Montreal Bride, published in 1932
  3. ^ Jenstad, Janelle Day, Lying-in Like a Countess: The Lisle Letters, the Cecil Family, and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies - Volume 34, Number 2, Spring 2004, pp. 373-403
  4. ^ Hyde, Marina (5 December 2014). "Childbirth is as awful as it is magical, thanks to our postnatal 'care' | Marina Hyde". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  5. ^ "Renaissance childbirth", Victoria & Albert Museum