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HealthLingo: Cesarean Section

How did C-section get its name? It may not be what you think!

Newborn feet

Q: My sister had a planned cesarean section when she recently delivered her first child. And while I know the essentials of that procedure, do you know how the procedure originally got its name? I’d love to know the story behind it.

A: Great question, but our research shows there’s no clear-cut answer about the name, which has been around since ancient times. Of course, it wasn’t always the sterile operating-room procedure we know today, far from it.

About a third of the babies born each day in the U.S. come into the world via cesarean section, commonly called a C-section.

During our quest, we came upon a great pamphlet in the National Library of Medicine, authored by medical historian Jane Eliot Sewell in 1993 for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Sewell said “the early history of cesarean section remains shrouded in myth and is of dubious accuracy. Even the origin of ‘cesarean’ has apparently been distorted over time.”

Did you know?

Half of U.S. births in 1938 occurred in a hospital. By 1955, it was 99%.

A common belief, Sewell said, is that the name is derived from the birth of Roman emperor Julius Caesar. Not likely, Sewell said, adding that at the time, the procedure was only performed when the mother was dead or dying, to add to a society’s population. Caesar’s mother is said to have lived to hear about the Roman invasion of Britain.

Sewell wrote that other possible Latin origins include the verb “caedare,” meaning to cut, and the term “caesones” that was applied to infants born by postmortem operations.

The term cesarean section was apparently coined in a book on midwifery in 1598, nearly 180 years before the American Revolution. It replaced the term cesarean operation.

The evolution of the procedure generally followed advances in medicine, including improvements in anesthesia and antiseptic practices in the late 1800s. Further advances came with the development of antibiotics and the growth in the number of hospitals.

Women’s health is a fast-growing field, and at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), our team includes experts in a host of areas, from cardiology to obstetrics and gynecology to menopause and much more. Our compassionate care is part of a partnership you can trust.

Late last year, four LVHN hospitals – Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest, LVH–Hazleton, LVH–Muhlenberg and LVH–Pocono – were recognized by U.S. News & World Report for providing high-quality care to new mothers and their babies.

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