The crazy history of pregnancy tests

We haven’t always had it super easy in the female health department, that’s for sure.

The second half of the last century has made some fairly big leaps and bounds in the direction of accurate and non-torturey pregnancy tests. But it wasn’t always that way. 

The ancient Egyptians’ method wasn’t all that bad. A woman’s urine was supposedly sprinkled on wheat and barley seeds, and if they sprouted, it meant pregnancy. If the wheat sprouted, it was a girl, and vice versa for the barley. Crazily enough, experiments done in 1963 proved that the Egyptians were eerily accurate in their method. 70% of the time, pregnant women’s urine did promote growth, whereas non-pregnant women’s and men’s urine did not. 

Another ancient Egyptian method – which is weird, but I can see what they were getting at – was to spread a stinking mixture of beer and date mash on the floor, bring the (maybe) mother-to-be into the room, and have her sit down. They counted how many times she vomited, and based their pregnancy predictions on that. 

Now to something much weirder. Apparently, the ancient Greeks weren’t as with it as the Egyptians. They thought that shoving an onion (or another, strong-smelling bulbous vegetable, they weren’t picky) up a woman’s vagina and leaving it there overnight would prove whether or not she was pregnant. The theory went like this: if she just had normal morning breath, no stench of onion (or said other bulbous vegetable), she was preggers, because her womb was “shut”. If her breath reeked of onions the next morning, she was definitely not preggers, because, you know, women are all just one big open tunnel from top to bottom. 

I’ll skip over the next few thousand years, where pregnancy tests mainly involved “observing the urine” (read more here).

In the early 20th century, upwards of five innocent and “sexually immature” rodents and rabbits were injected with a woman’s urine, killed, and dissected. If their ovaries were overdeveloped, it meant the woman was pregnant.

In 1933, scientists discovered a (slightly) more humane way of testing for pregnancy – with the African Clawed Frog. The frog was again, injected with the urine, but not killed. If it lay 100 to 200 eggs within 24 hours, it meant the woman was pregnant. 

I’d take the stick any day, thank you.

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