When it comes to pregnancy, much emphasis is placed on the mother-doctor relationship, but there is another person who shouldn’t be ignored during this process–the midwife.
According to the Midwives Alliance of North America, midwives are those women who are considered traditional care advisers to a mother during pregnancy. There are approximately 15,000 midwives practicing in the United States, but only slightly more than 10 percent of pregnancies include a midwife’s involvement.
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“Countries that utilize midwives as primary health care providers are also those countries in which mothers and infants fare best. The United States continues to rank behind most of the developed world in terms of infant and maternal mortality,” states the Alliance. “Midwives provide women with individualized care uniquely suited to their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs.”
For many immigrant women, midwives are an invaluable tool to a healthy pregnancy. Immigrant mothers are often confused about the health care system in a new country, and midwives can not only help them navigate the medical community, they can help expectant mothers maintain the cultural values they cherish for starting a family.
Why women in the United States need to re-think the midwife option
For some reason midwives aren’t very popular in the United States, but new research suggests that’s a reality that needs to change. A series of studies published in The Lancet indicates midwives not only act as advocates for women and children’s health, they actually save thousands of lives around the world.
The numbers gathered from the studies are shocking; globally, experts estimate 75 percent of infant and maternal deaths could be prevented over the next 15 years if more women were to utilize midwives. What’s more, the research suggests that if midwife use was increased by just 25 percent, the number of maternal deaths would be halved by the year 2030.
“Both underuse and overuse of medical interventions in pregnancy contribute to short- and long-term illness for an estimated 20 million childbearing women,” Prof. Caroline Home, one of the senior authors of the study, told MNT. “This not only effects their health and well-being, but may also result in their needing to pay for ongoing health care costs, and on the ability of their families to escape poverty.”
But there are hurdles standing in the way of more pregnant women utilizing midwives. First and foremost, many doctors don’t actively recommend midwife services, and expectant parents don’t usually have a full concept of just what a midwife can do for them.
The American Pregnancy Association indicates midwives follow the Midwives Model of Care, which requires them to monitor the “physical, psychological and social well-being of the mother during pregnancy, provide the mother with personalized education, counseling and prenatal care, one-to-one assistance during labor and delivery, and postpartum support.”
Countries that underutilize midwives have higher rates of medication overuse and unnecessary medical interventions compared to nations with high midwife utilization. But experts in the journal publication indicate a lack of regulation is another reason why midwives are not always a part of a pregnancy routine in certain countries.
For this reason, experts are putting together a framework that outlines the needs of expectant mothers, infants and their families before, during and after pregnancy, how these needs should be met, where they should be met and by whom.
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“The knowledge and methods are available to achieve quality maternal and newborn care. Political will and commitment are increasing, women’s and families’ voices are growing louder, and economic growth and education for girls are on the rise,” said study authors. “The opportunity to transform health, education, and social systems and to make maternal, newborn, and child health a reality for all, is here.”
Pregnant women interested in using a midwife’s services should be sure to check credentials. Even though there is little regulation, it is important to look for indications of credibility such as a certificate from a reputable midwife course and a long list of references from past clients.