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History of the Cesarean Section

Overview

Cesarean sections have become more common in recent years. Also known as a “C-section,” this procedure involves the surgical removal of a baby as an alternative means of delivery. During the procedure, a doctor makes incisions in the abdomen and the uterus to retrieve the baby.

Sometimes a C-section is necessary based on the health of the mother or the baby. In other cases, it’s not necessary. The increase in elective C-sections has caused concern among medical professionals. This is because the procedure can pose unintended — and even unnecessary — complications. Due to the rise of this alternative form of labor, it’s worth looking into the history of the procedure, and why it remains popular today.

First cesarean sections

The Cesarean section is credited as being named after the great Julius Caesar. While the exact timeline is debatable, the University of Washington (UW) reports that some believe Caesar was the first one to be born via C-section. The name is actually derived from the Latin word “caedare,” which means “to cut.”

While Caesar might get credit for the name, historians believe that the C-section was used before his time. It was primarily used to help birth babies whose mothers were dying or died from birth. Because of this, no narratives exist from mothers who had C-sections before the 1500s.

Despite the grim circumstances, there was a great deal of optimism surrounding babies born via C-section. According to UW, such babies were believed to have great strength and even mystical powers. Some of the Greek gods, such as Adonis, were believed to have been born through C-sections.

Evolution of the C-section

Whether or not babies born by C-section have magical powers, the procedure has evolved enough to give mothers power, too. For one, mothers rarely die during C-sections, thanks to advances in care. The advent of anesthesia makes the process less painful. Quality antibiotics also decrease the risk for life-threatening infections.

An estimated 32.2 percent of all babies are born through C-section. This statistic might seem small, as it represents a third of all births. Still, this is a jump from just two decades ago, when only 21 percent of babies were born by C-section. Researchers continue to investigate why C-sections have gained popularity. Some attribute the rise to increased health problems, and an increase in the number of mothers wanting to control their due dates. Other mothers may fear traditional childbirth and opt for a C-section instead.

Current recommendations

Vaginal delivery remains the preferred method of labor. Still, there are times when a C-section is warranted. Your doctor will recommend the procedure if they feel it’s the safest option.

Stalled labor is the most common reason women go through C-sections. This refers to labor that has started but doesn’t progress. Sometimes the cervix doesn’t dilate enough, or the baby’s head ceases to go through the birth canal. You may also have a C-section if you’ve had previous children born via this surgery.

Your doctor may also order a C-section if:

  • Your baby is breech, or a lower part of the body is in the birth canal instead of the head.
  • Your baby is in a transverse position, or lying sideways in the birth canal.
  • Your baby’s head is unusually large.
  • Your baby’s heartbeat is slowing down, or there is a problem with oxygen delivery to your baby.
  • You are giving birth to more than one baby. Sometimes one baby will be in an abnormal position, so all of the babies are then born via C-section.
  • Your baby has a birth defect that makes vaginal delivery unsafe.
  • You have umbilical cord issues.
  • You have health conditions that make vaginal delivery unsafe. These include high blood pressure, HIV, open herpes lesions, or heart problems.

Complications of a C-section

In some cases, a C-section can’t be avoided. However, the surgery poses certain complications. Women who have C-sections will likely have their subsequent children born in the same manner. For this reason, the Mayo Clinic discourages women from electing this surgery if they plan on having more than one child.

A C-section can cause complications with your reproductive system. Heavy bleeding can occur shortly after the procedure. This can require a hysterectomy, or surgical removal of the uterus. This could potentially take away your opportunity to get pregnant again. Multiple C-sections can also lead to problems with the placenta.

Due to the incisions needed, C-sections also put you at risk for related infections. These can occur inside the uterus, and may go undetected at first. If you need a C-section, be sure you receive proper aftercare to detect any potential complications.

Babies born via C-section can also be harmed by incisions made during surgery. Babies born via C-section before 39 weeks are also at an increased risk for breathing problems.

Bottom line

Despite the potential risks and complications, C-sections are much safer than they once were. Doctors take great care to make incisions that will reduce the risk of nicks to the baby and infections to the mother. Anesthesia also makes the procedure more comfortable for the mother.

Still, C-sections as a whole are not recommended unless absolutely necessary. If you and your baby are healthy, the risks of the surgery outweigh the benefits of choosing a delivery date and time. Always discuss the pros and cons of vaginal delivery versus C-section with your doctor.

Read This Next

Reasons for a C-Section: Medical, Personal, or Other
C-Section: Tips for a Fast Recovery
C-Sections: Which Part will Surprise You?
Placenta Delivery: What to Expect
What You Need to Know if Your Baby Is Breech
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