Article Text

Download PDFPDF

The start of life: a history of obstetrics
  1. J Drife
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor J Drife, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Level D, Clarendon Wing, Belmont Grove, Leeds LS2 9NS, UK;


Obstetric intervention originally consisted of extraction of the baby, usually by the breech, to save the mother's life in obstructed labour. Forceps, introduced in the 17th century, were later refined by men-midwives like William Smellie. In Victorian times, Simpson championed chloroform anaesthesia, Lister pioneered antisepsis, and caesarean section was introduced. In 1935, however, Britain's maternal mortality rate was still around 400/100 000. It fell dramatically after antibiotics appeared and is now 11.4. In the 1960s ultrasound and electronic fetal monitoring became widely used. In 2000 the British caesarean section rate reached 20%. Worldwide, childbirth still causes 600 000 maternal deaths a year.

  • obstetrics
  • history

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.