The number of midwives attending births in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2009, and may still be rising, according to a study of CDC data from 1989-2009 published this week.
“If this trend continues, it will bring us more in line with the rest of the world in giving midwives a central role in prenatal care and birth,” study author Eugene Declercq, professor of community-health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, told Time. “Given that other countries have lower costs and better outcomes, it would be a positive thing for this country.”
The number of midwife-attended births is still low: 7.6 percent of all births, and 11.8 percent of vaginal births (midwifes don't do C-sections). But the number more than doubled between 1989 and 2002, and a recent pair of New York Times articles, one headlined "The Midwife as a Status Symbol" and the other a profile of home birth pioneer Ina May Gaskin, focused attention on the trendlet.
As the New York Times points out, it's not just the numbers of women using midwives that has shifted; demographics have changed as well. "In 1990, CNMs [certified nurse midwives] attended a disproportionately high number of births to non-white mothers, whereas in 2009, the profile of CNM births mirrors the national distribution in race/ethnicity," the researchers wrote.
In regions with high use of midwives, C-section rates are usually lower. In New Mexico, Time points out, midwives attend 24% for all births — the highest rate in the country. “Not surprisingly, they also have one of the lowest C-section rates in the country,” Declercq said.
Midwife advocates say that's because midwives focus on a holistic pregnancy and birth, spend more time with the mother during labor, and aren't as quick to induce labor.
Laws regarding midwives and home births vary throughout the country, confusing the issue somewhat, according to National Public Radio. And, there are different types of midwives. According to Time: CNMs "are registered nurses who’ve studied an additional two years to get a degree in midwifery. Certified midwives are a small group who undergo training but come to midwifery from a background other than nursing. Certified professional midwives follow a different track altogether and attend mostly home births."
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