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Q&A: History of C-Sections?

Who had the first Cesarean section? When did the procedure become popular?
Updated
February 28, 2017
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Many people believe that Julius Cesar was the first child born by c-section, but it’s actually highly unlikely, because, at the time Cesar was born, Cesarean sections were only performed if the mother was at risk of dying before her baby was born—Cesar’s mother lived to see her son grow well into adulthood. Yet, the birth of the term Cesarean section can be explained by Roman law under Cesar: He mandated that any pregnant woman who was dying must be cut open to save the baby (this was a way to keep population rates up). On top of that, evidence of the actual procedure has been found in Greek mythology, European folklore, and ancient Hindu and Egyptian references. More food for thought: The Latin origin of the word is “caedare,” which means to cut and the term “caesones” was applied to infants born by postmortem operations. So basically the origin of the actual term remains up for debate.

No matter where it started or who had the first procedure, it became popular in the West during the twentieth century when the rise of rickets—a skeletal disorder marked by deformed pelvic bones—made natural childbirth nearly impossible for some women. Now one in every three births is done by c-section. Thanks to the proliferation of hospitals, surgical advancements, developments in Western medicine like anesthesia, and technological advances such as ultrasounds and fetal monitors, what was once a deadly procedure is now common practice.

Though the procedure has its risks, it can be a life-saving surgery for mother and child. In some cases, where the baby is having trouble moving through the birth canal or is in distress, a c-section is your only option. Before getting the procedure, your doctor will explain to you exactly why you need it. Some women even opt to plan their c-sections in advance knowing they have certain health risks or that the baby is in the wrong position for vaginal birth. Again, knowing what’s best for you and baby is up to your doctor.

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