This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
Much careful observation is required to discriminate between a child that is still-born, and one that has only lived a short time after its birth. Various appearances also, both internal and external, may be mistaken for marks of violent death.
"A woman, suffering the pains of labour, may have the foetus escape from her and fall to the ground on its head whilst she is resting on her knees and elbows, or standing on her feet, so that the child shall be destroyed unintentionally. It should also be understood that an infant, even at the full term of pregnancy, may escape from a woman into a privy or such-like place, during her exertions to evacuate the contents .of the intestines, and this may happen without her intending to destroy it. Such cases, beyond doubt, do sometimes occur."
"It may likewise happen that an unmarried woman, on coming to her full time, and having concealed her condition, may be taken ill when by herself, and be delivered of a live child; but that, either from fainting ensuing speedily, or her being suddenly deprived of reason from a distracted state of mind, she may be so overcome as to be unable to assist the child, whereby it may be suffocated under the bed clothes, or be otherwise so injured as only to make a few inspirations. In other instances it may happen, that although the child is born alive, still, from its universal weakness, the want of due assistance, the circulation of blood between the mother and child being so interrupted, either from undue pressure in its passage, or the chord being twisted round its neck in various convolutions, so as to produce congestion in some organ important to life, or from bleeding from the navel string, when it has not been tied, or from some other cause, it may soon cease to breathe, without receiving any intentional injury from its mother. No doubt occurrences of this nature do sometimes take place; and they clearly point out the impropriety of placing any reliance on the floating of the lungs in water, as a proof of infanticide."
On the floating in water of the lungs of a child, as a test of the child's having been born alive. The lungs of a still-born child, that is, one that has not breathed, will sink in water; but should the child be thrown into water, a pond, for instance, after a few days the body will begin to putrefy, and the lungs will then float in water; this shows how very careful a person should be in giving an opinion that a child was born alive, merely depending upon this sign. "From a very extended series of experiments, continued during a number of years, and executed with the utmost care and precision, Mayer found, on putting into water the lungs of stillborn children, in whom of course, no sign of life or respiration had appeared, that they sunk to the bottom. After an interval of two or three days, the water in which they were left became turbid-the lungs changed in colour, and increased in volume; here and there an air bubble arose to the surface of the water, and at the same time a putrid odour became perceptible. All these appearances continued to increase daily, until the sixth, seventh, or at latest, the eighth day; when the lungs, both entire and cut into pieces, floated in the water in which they became putrid. On transferring the lungs to vessels containing clean water, they still continued to float, although on the slightest compression they instantly sank. Lungs placed in water, and exposed to the rays of the sun, swam oh the sixth day. If they were suffered to putrefy where there was a free current of air, they rarely floated before the tenth or eleventh day. After the lungs had once floated, they remained in that state, emitting daily a more offensive odour, and acquiring an increased volume, until the twenty-first, or at the latest, the thirty-fifth day. After that period, they gradually sank down, without a single exception, to the bottom of the vessel, nor did they afterwards betray any disposition to float, although kept for seven weeks, and in some instances much longer."