Witches can be nasty creatures…and doubly so anywhere near newborns. Just think about the evil fairies in Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. Nothing to trifle with!
If witches and mean fairies seem to be circling baptisms and childbeds in fairy tales, it has a lot to do with the fact that–according to popular legends–they were in need of supplies for their devilish rituals.
According to early-modern writers like Jean Bodin, Cardano, and Della Porta, the fat of newborns was a vital ingredient in magical flying potions. Witches were also said to make candles from an infant’s umbilical cord.
Other byproducts of labor were also reported to have great mystical properties. The placenta was considered by some to be an aphrodisiac and, if eaten, could be used to treat infertility, a practice that the church condemned.
These and other concerns regarding what the midwife-witch might do with human flesh and body fluids motivated regulations in German (Wurzburg, 1555) that clearly specified how the midwife was to dispose of all biological bi-products during the delivery. Morever, frequent laws were passed in France that dictated that only woman of good Catholic faith could help a birthing mother.