The Obstetric Bag:  What’s Inside?


Most contemporary obstetric texts  printed a list of ‘standard’ instruments, medicines and supplies for the physician attending births in both the home or at hospital.  Indeed a study of the contents of many 19th and 20th century obstetric bags deposited in artifact collections worldwide suggest that many physicians (and midwives) were well prepared for their patient’s labour and common birthing complications. 

These obstetric bags were very bulky and heavy – often weighing around 50 pounds – and contained items ranging from a variety of forceps and curettes to bottles of ether or chloroform to needles and sutures to stethoscopes, thermometers and syringes.  Also packed may be rubber gloves, sterile gauze, towels, soap and creams, as well as numerous medicines including ergot (reduce blood loss), pituitrin (induce labour), and morphine (for pain).

Instruments were boiled before using and stored in sterilizing kits.  With the lid tightly closed, these sterilizing kits may have also contained towels doused in formaldehyde solution that lay across tools to maintain asepsis.


This doctor’s bag contains 89 different objects deemed necessary for attending a birth.
This object dates from the early to mid 20th C.


For the link to the online database click here.

•  Applicators (6)
•  Bottle (7)
•  Birth Certificate Form (3)
•  Canula (4)
•  Catheter (2)
•  Container and Lid
•  Forceps (10)
•  Forcep Clamp
•  Forcep Part (2)
•  Forcep Handle
•  Funnel
•  Gauze Bandage
•  Hook
•  Irrigator Tip
•  Midwifery Forceps (3)
•  Needle Holder
•  Notice of Birth Form (6)
•  Sponge (2)
•  Sutures (15)
•  Suture Box (3)
•  Suture Container
•  Syringe Container and Lid
•  Tenaculum Forceps(2)
•   Trocar (4)
•  Umbilical Tape and Jar
•  Yankaeur's Anesthesia Mask & Parts