Monday, March 21, 2011

Medical Question: 1940's C-Section

Nike asks the following question:

Can you tell me anything about Cesarean section in 1946 in a tiny village hospital. It's in Long Island, NY, only two hours from NYC, so they're not isolated and totally backward.
The woman is a minor character who appears in only one scene, but I want to get it right. It's after a brutal snow storm, a maternity nurse stops by just to check in. Everyone knows everyone in the village and the doctor, a woman doctor, mentions she's been thinking about this patient. The nurse is going home, and says she's been thinking about her too and will probably stop in on her.
I figure the patient was in the hospital about a week and she'll need bed rest for about two weeks. Is that right? I'm thinking the patient might have her mother either living with her or staying w/her for the duration and the mother would be doing all the daily chores and taking care of the infant.

Jordyn says: I've been researching your question and am not quite finding the specifics you're looking for. Right now, a woman who has a C-section would be in the hospital for anywhere from 2-5 days with 2 weeks of light chores at home and no driving so your parameters of a week in the hospital and a couple weeks bedrest--- I think you could have some latitude. I tried to get some first-hand accounts and found one... number three below. That might lend to getting a feel for the culture at the time.
I've included several references/resources for you to look through.

1. General overview of the history of C-section:

2. Here's some of the procedures a woman might experience:
"By the 1940's, the standard was set, with hospital birth being thought to be the ideal. The idea was that at the hospital the doctor had all the "tools of the trade" handily available. Unfortunately, this was and continues to be a major downfall of hospital birth, as well. Included in those tools were medications, forceps, surgical instruments, confinement to bed, enemas, pubic shaving, arm and leg restraints, and hospital nurseries with rigid schedules. Birth was seen as an illness that required medical attention."
 3. I found a patient experience from the 1940's-- though not a C-section. What she says and the pictures that they include I think will help give you a lot about the culture at the time. Plus, the couple is absolutely adorable!
4. Some more about the culture of the 1940's. "During the 1940s most women gave birth in an unconscious state, courtesy of drugs such as scopolamine. Women of that time seemed very happy to be numb, and end the "suffering" their mothers experienced in childbirth. They looked at birth without drugs as uncivilized."
5. Historical Overview
I found this little snippet that mentioned the length of hospital stay but couldn't pull the reference.  Period 1940-1950, the length of stay in hospital was reduced from 20.5 to 9.8 days per patient.
Any other suggestions for Nike?

Nike is a wife, mother, and animal lover. She loves living in coastal metro NYC, a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean. Like so many other writers, Nike started writing at a very young age. She still has the Crayola, fully illustrated book she penned as a little girl about her then off-the-chart love of horses. Today, you might call her a crime fictionista. Her passion is crime fiction. She likes her bad guys really bad and her good guys smarter and better.
Nike was a 2010 Inspy Awards judge and writes book reviews for The Christian Pulse on-line magazine. She’s the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader driven inspirational fiction award and current  member of the American Christian Fiction Writiers (ACFW), where she serves as a small critique group leader. Also, she’s a member of Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers on Ning, where she coordinates a group summer blog tour and has taught a workshop on proposal writing. You can find Nike at Crime Fictionista:



  1. My aunt had a c-section in the 1940s, although in a small town. I'll ask my mother about specifics and report back. I do know it would be a similar time in the hospital as any type of major abdominal surgery and a similar recovery period.

  2. Thanks Sheila!! That would be awesome and I appreciate you checking into it.

  3. I agree this is awesome.

    The entire blog is awesome as a resource for writers. :)

  4. Thanks Nike! I'm glad you're finding it useful.

  5. Checked with my mother. Her memory is failing. She does remember my aunt stayed in the hospital for several days (perhaps two weeks?) after the c-section and that it took several weeks for her to recover. My aunt had major surgery on her intestinal tract as a child and that may have complicated the c-section. Hope this helps!

  6. Thanks Sheila... great information!!