African midwives performed C-sections before it was common
In 1879, British explorer RW Felkin witnessed Ugandan healers and midwives performing a caesarean section. Both mother and baby survived the surgery.
A cesarean section, also known as a cesarean section, is surgery to deliver a baby through an incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. This procedure is usually performed by doctors when they believe it is safer for the mother, baby, or both.
In December 2022, a viral TikTok video claimed that a successful cesarean section – a C-section in which both mother and baby survived – had been performed for hundreds of years in Africa, before the procedure was widespread. in Europe.
“The baby survived, the mother recovered well and they received herbal treatment to promote wound healing,” the TikTok user said.
Did African midwives successfully perform caesarean sections before it was common in Europe?
That’s right, African midwives successfully performed caesarean sections before it was common in Europe.
WHAT WE FIND
African midwives successfully performed caesarean sections before it became common in Europe. According to the National Library of Medicine, during the 19th century, European travelers witnessed successful surgeries, in which both mother and baby survived, in parts of Africa, including Uganda and Rwanda.
Caesarean section has been a part of both Western and non-Western cultures since ancient times. Many references to the procedure appear in the ancient folklore of China, Hinduism, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and other Europe. But the origin of the word “cesarean section” and the early history of the procedure are both shrouded in myth.
The National Library of Medicine says that “cesarean section” is often attributed to Julius Caesar’s cesarean section in 100 BC. However, many historians argue that this story seems unlikely since Caesar’s mother, Aurelia, is believed to have lived many years after the birth of her son.
The National Library of Medicine explains on its website: “At the time, this procedure was performed only when the mother was dead or dying, as an attempt to save the child for a country that wanted to increase population”. “Roman law under Caesar dictated that all women who had passed through childbirth had to have a caesarean section; therefore, cesarean section.
Many of the earliest successful cesarean births – both mother and baby survived – were performed on kitchen tables and beds in remote rural areas, with no medical staff or hospital facilities. Without a doctor on site, this means the procedure could be done at an earlier stage in the case of labor failure “when the mother is not near death and the fetus is less distressed”.
“In these cases, the chances of survival for one or both are higher,” says the National Library of Medicine.
The first successful cesarean section recorded in the British Empire was performed by a woman in the early 19th century in Africa. James Miranda Stuart Barry, who disguised himself as a man and served as a doctor for the British army in South Africa, performed surgery in Cape Town in 1826 and successfully gave birth to a healthy baby boy, according to the Encyclopedia of Embryology at Arizona State University and the National Library of Medicine.
Barry learned how to have a caesarean section while attending medical school in Scotland, but had only seen two performed, both of which were fatal to the mother and fetus. In the early 19th century, antiseptics and anesthetics were not available and severe pain, as well as a high risk of infection, were common with most cesarean deliveries, especially in hospitals at the time. there.
“Before the germ theory of disease and the advent of modern bacteriology in the second half of the 19th century, surgeons wore casual clothes for surgery and rarely washed their hands when switching from patient after patient,” says the National Library of Medicine.
In the late 19th century, travelers from other parts of Africa reported seeing indigenous peoples successfully performing caesarean sections using their own unique medical methods. For example, in 1879, English explorer and medical missionary Robert W. Felkin watched Ugandan male medics and midwives perform caesarean sections, in which both mother and Both children survived, during his journey through Central Africa.
In an article published in the Edinburgh Medical Journal in 1884, Felkin wrote that while in Kahura, Uganda, he saw a healer from the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom using banana wine as an anesthetic to intoxicate a person. woman in labor. The healer is also said to have washed the woman’s hands and stomach with banana wine and water before the surgery.
In her note, Felkin wrote that the woman was strapped to the bed with strips of fabric, while an assistant held her ankle during the procedure. Another assistant immobilizes the woman’s abdomen, while the healer makes a quick incision of the abdominal wall and part of the uterine wall with a large, curved knife. After the incision, the newborn was quickly taken out and given to another assistant after the umbilical cord was cut.
According to Felkin’s records, the healer kept strong pressure on the uterus until it contracted firmly. Heat is also applied sparingly with a red hot iron to minimize excessive bleeding. The healer did not use sutures or stitches to close the abdominal wound. Instead, Felkin detailed that the wound was pinned with seven thin iron spikes and tied with a rope made of bark cloth before dressing with a paste made from other roots. together. According to Felkin, a banana leaf that had been heated over a fire was placed over the bandaged wound, and “a mbugu cloth certainly completed the operation.”
Since both the mother and the baby recovered well from the cesarean section, Felkin concluded that the Bunyoro-Kitara technique had been well developed and practiced for a long time.
“As far as I know, Uganda is the only country in Central Africa that performs a caesarean section in the hope of saving both mother and child,” Felkin wrote.
Outside of Uganda, the National Library of Medicine says similar stories of successful caesarean sections have also been performed in Rwanda, “where botanical preparations are also used to anesthetize patients and promote wound healing process”.
It is also documented that African healers and midwives brought their knowledge of caesarean section to the United States during the Transatlantic Slave Trade from the 16th to 19th centuries.
According to the University of Richmond and Embryology Project Encyclopedia, there is a story about a Virginia doctor named Jesse Bennett who performed the first successful cesarean section in America for his wife in 1794. Bennett was given performed the operation with the help and guidance of slave servants well versed in the procedure.
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