Short tour of some of the interesting history: Caesarean sections (illegal for most of history, and probably not used on Julius Caesar); forceps; the trend from home to hospital birth; Apgar scores.
There’s a paradox here. Ask most research physicians how a profession can advance, and they will talk about the model of “evidence-based medicine”—the idea that nothing ought to be introduced into practice unless it has been properly tested and proved effective by research centers, preferably through a double-blind, randomized controlled trial. But, in a 1978 ranking of medical specialties according to their use of hard evidence from randomized clinical trials, obstetrics came in last. Obstetricians did few randomized trials, and when they did they ignored the results. Careful studies have found that fetal heart monitors provide no added benefit over having nurses simply listen to the baby’s heart rate hourly. In fact, their use seems to increase unnecessary Cesarean sections, because slight abnormalities in the tracings make everyone nervous about waiting for vaginal delivery. Nonetheless, they are used in nearly all hospital deliveries. Forceps have virtually disappeared from the delivery wards, even though several studies have compared forceps delivery to Cesarean section and found no advantage for Cesarean section. (A few found that mothers actually did better with forceps.)