Historical Overview

The origin of the term ''cesarean birth'' or ''cesar-ean section,'' as it is often called, is disputed. Clearly, the name does not come from the Roman emperor Julius Caesar having been born by such an operation. In his day this operation was fatal to the mother, and it is known that Caesar's mother survived his birth. There are references to abdominal birth in Roman documents dating to as early as 715 B.C.E. when it was mentioned as the Lex Regis, or Law of the King: If a pregnant woman died, the baby was to be delivered as quickly as possible through an abdominal incision to save its life. In the time of the Caesars this law became the Lex Cesare, from which the modern name for cesarean birth may have been derived. Also "cesarean" may have been derived from the Latin word cadere, which means ''to cut.'' Furthermore, in Rome children born by abdominal delivery were referred to as caesones. Because of the high maternal death rate from cesarean births, the operation was rarely performed until the twentieth century, when modern surgery was improved with the development of anesthesia and the means to control hemorrhage and to prevent and treat infection. By 1950 it was possible for a hospital in New York City to report that 1,000 consecutive cesarean deliveries had been performed without a single maternal death.

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