For most, “survival of the fittest” is simply a concept that triggers flashbacks to middle school science lectures, however this concept holds a lot of value when considered in terms of human evolution. “Survival of the fittest” defines the process of natural selection, which is most easily described as the theory that organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. Natural selection has always been—you guessed it —a natural process, but modern medical advancements in child birth are beginning to change that.
A recent study of birthing data outlined by the World Health Organization shows an increase in frequency of obstructed births—during which a baby cannot fit through the birth canal. The most frequent cause of obstructed labor is called cephalo-pelvic disproportion, which is a mismatch between the fetal head and the mother’s pelvic brim. One of the most common solutions to this problem is to intervene in nature’s selection of certain birth-related traits by inducing a surgical birth, which is commonly referred as a cesarean section, or C-section.
If cesarean section birth procedures were never developed, many women who experienced cephalo-pelvic disproportion would have passed away during labor. Thus, their narrow pelvis trait, as well as a larger fetus size trait, would not have passed on to the next generation. Evolution would have done its trick, and only let the “fittest” survive, which in this case would be women with wide hips and proportional babies. But with new medical developments come new solutions, and cesarean sections now allow the narrow hip trait and the larger fetus size trait to persist in many societies.
Evolution often seems like an elusive process that we are very far removed from; it is something we cannot usually recognize as an everyday concept or experience. However, the idea of being able to steer evolution through birthing methods makes it seem much more tangible and within our control.
However, the ability of certain traits to persist as the availability of C-sections has increased is evidence of evolution in modern times, and study of evolution is, in fact, even more important now as our technology continues to rapidly advance. Scientists and medical professionals are singlehandedly changing the course of human evolution. And, although surgical births have yet to outnumber traditional births, they may play a significant role in the evolution of the female body as they continue to increase in frequency.
Photo: Jennifer Pack, CC-BY