Infant Mortality

Infant Mortality

Childbirth is a dangerous time for mothers and for babies. In Ancient Egypt, maternal and infant mortality were high. This is not because Egypt was more dangerous than other countries. For most of human history, between twenty and fifty percent of babies have not lived through their first year. In Ancient Egypt, a mother would be very lucky if half of her children lived to be adults. Many men would lose their wives in childbirth, and many older children would grow up without their mothers.

There were many causes of this high death rate in infants. Many diseases that can now be cured, such as smallpox, were deadly before modern medicine.

Mothers who did not get enough to eat could not have healthy babies, and endangered their own lives with every pregnancy. Sometimes people can eat a sufficient amount of food, but still their diet lacks certain vitamins and minerals essential to health. Though the Nile usually provided Ancient Egyptians with a good and varied diet, there were years when the Inundation was not sufficient to water all the land, and people went hungry.

If the mother died, there might be no one who could feed a newborn baby. The only 'artificial' feeding available in the ancient world was animal milk, usually the milk of a cow or goat. People who were not rich enough to own such animals, or to hire a wetnurse, had to hope that other women in the family would have extra milk to feed the orphan.

All people until very recent times were greatly troubled by parasites, from the lice and fleas that suck human blood, to more subtle and often more deadly creatures that live inside human beings. A water-borne parasite brings a disease called bilharziasis or schistosomaisis, which still affects many people in the world.

Tape worms and other parasites could be introduced to a body if food, especially meat, was not cooked thoroughly. Trichinosis is one such disease, caused by eating undercooked, infected, pork.

Malaria still kills a million people a year throughout the world; it was present in Ancient Egypt, sapping people's strength, making them more susceptible to disease and infection.

Accidents such as drowning must have put an early end to many lives, and attacks by wild animals, such as scorpions and crocodiles would also have been a danger.