Episode 16. C-Sections: One (un)successful history

In a time with no understanding of the womb, female anatomy, or germs, a complicated childbirth was the last thing you wanted. The options to save yourself or save your baby were slim, and there was rarely an option to save you both. The development of the C-section changed that, well kinda. As medicine evolved over a thousand years, so did this procedure as it developed with the times. However, I wouldn’t call this history a successful story as this procedure had many, MANY, set backs. But today, one in three children are born via C sections, so something worked eventually! This increased number of procedures isn’t exactly a good thing however, as C-sections aren’t always the best move for a woman’s body. Trying to find the balance between when to cut or not is a tricky business, which involves multiple factors playing into such decisions. Join us in this episode to learn about the history of C-sections, how the procedure changed midwifery and obstetricians’s role in childbirth, and why rates have risen over the years! 

Feminist Corner:

Obstetricians are often faced with the challenge of whether or not their medical practice will face lawsuits based on how they deliver a child. What do these fears say about our medical system and how it influences care?

What are your thoughts on the over medicalization of childbirth and how a woman and their healthcare provider should approach a birth plan?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

Today’s discussion is on the history of cesarean sections, better known as the C-section! The first recorded attempts at C-sections came from Ancient Rome. A law known as the Lex Caesarea required the unborn child to be cut from a deceased mother. This law aligned with religious order and was not for medical purpose so the outcomes for babies were not so great. 

In the Renaissance Ages, two great advancements occurred. Jacob Nufer of Switzerland performed the first successful C-section on a living woman and an increase in human anatomy led to further surgical advancements.

Then in the 1800s, anesthesia was discovered allowing the profession to grow even more. Pregnant women experiencing complications could move away from receiving craniotomies on their babies and receive C-sections instead. Advancements in C-sections were also seen in Uganda around the same time, where local doctors indicated extensive understanding of the procedure. 

Today, one in three babies are born via C-sections. Increased C-section rates can be attributed to advancements in fetal medicine, defensive medicine, and the ability of women to control every aspect of their birthing experience. The increase in C-section numbers through the years have pushed midwifery out of the childbirth field, leaving OB/GYNs to take the reins. This occurred despite midwifery success rates with vaginal births. 

As C-section rates have risen, affluent women are being taken advantage of for their access to care and Black, Latina, and Native American women are receiving high rates of C-sections for no medical reason. The current state of affairs leaves us needing to find a good balance between when or when not to operate.


Bali, S., & Utaal, M. S. (2016). Ancient origins of caesarean section and contextual rendition of Krishna’s birth. International Journal of Scientific Reports, 2(11), 296. doi:10.18203/issn.2454-2156.intjscirep20163650

Cesarean Rates. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cesareanrates.org/

Cesarean Section – A Brief History. (2013, July 26). Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/cesarean/part1.html

Lake, N. (2014, March 03). Labor, Interrupted. Retrieved from https://harvardmagazine.com/2012/11/labor-interrupted


Park, K. (2010). Secrets of women: Gender, generation, and the origins of human dissection (p. 154). New York: Zone Books.

Rosenberg, K. R., & Trevathan, W. R. (2018). Evolutionary perspectives on cesarean section. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, 2018(1), 67-81. doi:10.1093/emph/eoy006

Thielking, M. T. (2016, March 09). Why the C-section rate is much higher than it should be in US. Retrieved from https://www.statnews.com/2015/12/01/cesarean-section-childbirth

Like the episode? Send us your thoughts and questions!

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