Woodcut from the 1549 edition of Alessandro Beneditti’s De Re Medica, depicting the baby Asclepius being extracted from his mother Coronis by his father Apollo. Image sourced from the website of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

One of the earliest recorded cesarean sections took place in India in 320 B.C. when the pregnant Queen Durdhara accidentally consumed poison and died very close to her due date. Her royal advisor decided the baby should be saved and he performed an impromptu cesarean section on the Queens dead body. Throughout most of recorded history cesarean sections were performed in this way, as a desperate measure of last resort in an effort to save the baby. Frequently the surgery was performed as the mother was dying or after she had already died and the wellbeing of the mother was not a primary concern.

During the last few centuries, beginning in the 1500’s, there can be found occasional stories of midwives and doctors who successfully performed this life-saving surgery to rescue both the mother and child but it wasn’t until the 1900’s that maternal mortality rates began to decline. Since the start of the 20th century there have been many medical advances in the areas of anesthesia, blood transfusions, antibiotics and equipment sterilization, as well as an evolution in the types of incision and suturing techniques used. Medical advances have significantly improved the maternal mortality rate worldwide and cesarean sections are now one of the most commonly performed surgeries. However every surgery comes with risks and benefits and in developing countries an emergency C-section can still mean death for the mother and baby. A cesarean section is a major surgery and should never be considered routine or performed when it is not medically necessary. Even in the worlds finest hospitals post surgical sepsis and hemorrhage regularly claim lives.