What’s the story behind c-sections?

As my delivery date draws closer, I’ve started to think more about the birthing process. I’ve been wondering what the story is behind c-sections, in particular.

Contrary to what I originally thought, the caesarian section does NOT get its name from how the Roman dictator Julius Caesar was delivered.

History of the c-section

According to Wikipedia, c-sections were first performed in Rome when a mother had died while still carrying her baby, from around 715 BC. It was a religious rule that she not be buried pregnant. Eventually it turned into a way to save the baby when the mother had not delivered by 10 months of pregnancy (note inserted by me: can you imagine going 10 months!?)

The first child born successfully by surgery was said to have been the son of an emperor and queen in India in 320 BC. The mother had died by accidentally ingesting poison when she was close to delivering the baby, and an advisor to the king cut her open to save the baby.

A worried husband steps up

The earliest recorded c-section where the mother actually survived the procedure was in the 1580’s. A Swiss man named Jakob Nufer performed the surgery on his wife after she’d been in labor for a long time and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, saving both her and the baby. He was a pig gelder by trade. (Way to step up, hubby!)

By 1865, the mortality rate after a c-section was still 85% in Great Britain and Ireland. But soon after that point, the first modern Caesarean section was performed by German gynecologist Ferdinand Adolf Kehrer, in 1881. He found a way to make the necessary incisions without as much harm to the mother, thus helping to reduce the mortality rates. Soon after, Max Sanger found a way to suture the uterus following the procedure. Advances in anesthesia, blood transfusions, and antibiotics also soon helped to make c-sections safer for the mother.

C-sections are mostly still reserved for situations when vaginal delivery may pose a risk to the mother or baby. Many doctors discourage elective c-sections, because the procedure does carry with it some risk.

Why are there more c-sections nowadays?

However, the rate of babies delivered by c-section has increased dramatically: to 25% or so of all births in the U.S. and many Asian, European and Latin American countries, and 46% in China.

Though opinions vary, reasons for the dramatic rise in c-sections are thought to be factors such as:

  • the media and changing popular perceptions regarding birth
  • women losing confidence in their body’s ability to give birth naturally
  • changing genetics of the population (moms with smaller pelvises and bigger babies survive thanks to c-sections, also propagating these traits in future generations, who will then also require c-sections)
  • a greater ability to detect high-risk situations medically prior to birth
  • reduced tolerance for pain in our society
  • more eagerness on the part of doctors to recommend c-sections, since the surgery results in a bigger bill

So, where does the name caesarian section come from?

Nobody seems to know for sure. The term may have been derived from the verb caedere, ‘to cut’, with children delivered this way referred to as caesones.

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Comments (5)

  1. Jessica Beard

    Very interesting information on C-sections and where they originated. I was fortunate in being able to give birth vaginally, but in the future this information might be useful. They sure have come a long way in how they perform the surgery and how women recover. I can’t imagine being pregnant for 10 months-9 was long enough for me! I know many of my friends have had successful births through C-sections. I wish you the best with your upcoming birth!

  2. Shanna

    I experienced my doctor pushing me toward a c section with my 2nd baby. He was breach, and they didn’t want to try anything to change his positioning. Apparently versions are now found to be more risky than just doing the c section (what!?) so they wanted me to schedule at 8 months. Instead I visited a chiropractor who used the Webster technique. I was skeptical at first, but the process was only slightly uncomfortable and posed NO threat to me or my baby. My baby flipped after the 3rd visit. The doctors wrote it off as “coincidence,” but I am so thrilled that I went that route. I had no desire to have my baby surgically removed unless it was a medical necessity! I understand that there are times when c sections save lives, but I am bothered by how often doctors push the women who trust them into feeling like they are a necessity.

  3. Abigail Sharpe

    C-section with the first because I had IUGR and he wasn’t getting the nutriants he needed to survive. Doctors tried to induce but his heart rate dropped every time I had a contraction.

    C-section with the second because he was late. And I was tired of waiting. 🙂

  4. shelly

    Wow, didn’t know C-sections were as early as 1500’s! I have never had a c-section, but I wouldn’t be against it if it was medically necessary for my baby.

  5. Terri

    I had an emergency C-section with my daughter in 1981 and then a planned one with my son in 1984. At that time, I had to stay in the hospital for 5 days and was in a lot of pain. They have come a long way since then. You hear about a lot of celebrities opting for a C-section, so they don’t have to go through the labor part of childbirth.

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