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Are Midwives Safer than Doctors?

The editorial board of the New York Times (NYT) recently released an astounding article titled “Are Midwives Safer than Doctors?” Astounding to the average reader, but certainly not to the midwife, doula, and millions of people around the world who have entrusted their health and the health of their children to the care of midwives.

The NYT cites a study by Britain’s National Institute for Heath and Care Excellence that concluded the following:

“It is safer for healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies to give birth under the supervision of midwives than in a hospital maternity ward run by doctors.”

The reasoning behind the conclusion? Doctors are much more likely to opt for forceps deliveries, spinal anesthesia (epidural), and C-sections – procedures that are unnecessarily dangerous because of their risk for infection and surgical accidents, not to mention potential long-term consequences.

What’s the definition of a low-risk pregnancy? Namely, women who have had no previous complicated birth, who are expected to deliver a single baby full-term, and that the baby is presenting head first. These women and their children fared better with midwives than with doctors in almost all settings.

While there are differences in the health care systems between the United States and Britain, the editorial board of the NYT claims there is no good reason that midwives shouldn’t play a more important role in childbirth in the United States. The editorial board goes on to state that obstetricians and midwives have a longstanding “turf war” that has tended to marginalize midwives underneath the care of doctors.

The Mayo Clinic, for example, allows midwives to handle low-risk pregnancies independently and hand off to doctors in births that may become complicated. This is a practice that will hopefully be adopted by hospitals around the country.

In a era of increasing health costs and rising medical care uncertainty due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, midwives offer a cost-effective way to provide not only comparable but better maternity care. Midwives also have better reach, namely, their freedom of movement and ability to travel to the patient allow women in more geographically restricted areas to receive outstanding maternity care.

Bipartisan legislation House Resolution 4385 “To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for the designation of maternity care health professional shortage areas” is pending before Congress. This resolution would require the federal government to identify areas with a shortage of aforementioned professionals and take steps to address the needs of these areas. It is backed by the American College of Nurse-Midwives as well as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. As the New York Times states, the bill would help many more women gain easy access to maternity services. The Editorial Board concludes the House Resolution should be approved.

At Pink Stork, we strongly support the use of midwives and doulas during the pregnancy journey.