Next month, we celebrate National Midwifery Week (Oct. 1-7). While there are different types of midwives in America today, the vast majority are certified nurse-midwives. A certified nurse-midwife is a licensed, independent healthcare provider with prescriptive authority, who specializes in women’s health care. The word “midwife” derives from Old English mid, meaning “with,” and wif, meaning “woman,” thus meaning “with-woman.” Midwives honor the life cycle events of women, such as puberty, childbearing years and menopause.
While midwives are well known for attending births, they also provide health care to women, including annual exams, writing prescriptions, basic nutrition counseling, parenting education, patient education and reproductive health visits. A hallmark of midwifery is health promotion and disease prevention. Midwives work closely with physician specialists, using the model of consultation, collaboration and referral as needed to provide optimal health care.
Studies have shown that midwives increase the chance of normal vaginal birth, decrease medical interventions, increase a woman’s participation during labor and birth and increase successful breastfeeding in the first hour after birth. Women express an increased sense of control, and feel more engaged during labor, birth and postpartum. Midwives spend time guiding women through active labor and delivery, promoting activities such as hydrotherapy, upright positions and moving around. Breathing and relaxation exercises are also encouraged.
As of 2010, a graduate degree is required for entry to midwifery practice as a CNM. Certified nurse-midwives have also completed an accredited midwifery education program and have passed a certification exam in order to meet requirements for certification by the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
The American College of Nurse-Midwives is the professional association that represents certified nurse-midwives and certified midwives in the United States and is the oldest women’s healthcare organization in the United States. Its inception dates back to 1929 where it began as the Kentucky State Association of Midwives and was changed to ACNM in 1955.
In early U.S. history, midwives played an important role in pregnancy and childbirth. In the early 1900s, midwives attended more than half of all births in America. By 1950, that number decreased to less than 10 percent. Today, hospital births attended by midwives are estimated to be approximately 8 to 10 percent.
Midwifery in America differs greatly from midwifery in other parts of the western world. Around the world, low-risk births are mostly attended by midwives. In Australia, Denmark, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the UK, approximately 60 percent of all births are attended by midwives. The National Institute of Health states, “midwifery is a care model that demonstrates easy access to care, effectiveness, increased satisfaction among women and lower healthcare cost due to decreased interventions including cesarean sections. Midwifery in the United States is underutilized.”
At Lima Memorial Alliance OB-GYN, certified nurse-midwives and physicians work collaboratively to provide care to women, respecting the unique and individual needs of each woman and her family. For more information on nurse-midwifery, you may visit www.midwife.org. To experience the many benefits nurse midwives can offer your family, schedule an appointment or learn more, contact Lima Memorial Alliance OB-GYN at 419-998-8245.
Debra D. Newton is a Certified Nurse Midwife, Lima Memorial Physicians, Lima Memorial Alliance OB-GYN.