Before We Peed on Sticks: The History of Pregnancy Tests

History of Pregnancy Tests

I recently moved (yes, again), and during my packing, I found the two pregnancy tests I had taken when I was pregnant with my twins. I didn’t even remember that I kept these, and truth be told I never even needed to take them: my pregnancy had been confirmed with a blood test at my fertility center. But, since I was so excited that I was actually pregnant and could hardly believe it, I took the pee tests at home.

And eww I kept them.

Here were these piss-ridden plastic sticks just hanging out in the back of my bathroom closet. As I tossed them in the trash, I wondered what women did before these tests. Did they just confirm their pregnancies after months of missed periods? Or did they have some other way to know? I was too busy with the move to think twice about this.

Then, just the other week, I came across a really cool LiveScience article — as if sent from above to satisfy my curiosity.

Apparently, women didn’t just wait for their periods not to arrive to discover that they were pregnant.

In Ancient Egypt (we’re talking B.C. here, folks), women peed on seeds, specifically wheat and barley seeds. If no seeds sprouted, she wasn’t pregnant. If the wheat seeds sprouted, the woman was said to be pregnant with a girl. If barely sprouted, she was expecting a boy. Science has since debunked this method sort of. Higher than usual estrogen in urine might help seeds germinate, but predicting the sex is wholly out of the equation.

The crazy Middle Ages brought about their own pregnancy pee tests. So-called “piss prophets” would gauge the color of a needle placed in a vial of urine. If the needle turned rust colored or black, they believed the woman to be pregnant.

The 1920s began the use of animals in confirming pregnancy. The hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) was discovered to only be present in pregnant women, so doctors would inject urine from suspected pregnant women into mice, frogs, or rabbits. (Imagine keeping one of them in the back of your bathroom closet?!) If the animal went into heat, the woman was confirmed pregnant with 98% accuracy. Totally weird, right? But these tests were expensive and time-consuming. 

The biggest advance was made in the 1970s when scientists developed the first at-home pregnancy pee test. According to LiveScience, “In 1976, drug maker Warner-Chilcott sought approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for an early-pregnancy test, or ‘e.p.t.’ For $10, women could purchase the two-hour test kit (emphasis mine) to use in the privacy of her own home; it included a vial of purified water, an eye dropper, a test tube and an assortment of compounds including sheep’s blood. Used correctly, the e.p.t. was 97 percent accurate for positive results and 80 percent accurate for negative results.” Sheep’s blood? Gross!

Praise modern-day convenience! Home pregnancy tests yield results in a matter of minutes and are up to 99% accurate, many of them even have digital indicators.

After all is said and done, we’ve been peeing on all sorts of things for centuries to find out if we’re pregnant, ladies. Pee away!


Source: LiveScience
Photo: iStockphoto

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