The third season of the BBC Series “Call the Midwife” premieres March 30 on WPT. The show, based on the memoirs of midwife Jennifer Worth, chronicles the lives of midwives in London’s East End in the 1950s. Here in America, midwifery is having a surge in popularity in recent years. So what exactly is a midwife? Is midwifery safe? Why do some families choose to have their births attended by a midwife?
From the early colonial days through the early 1900s, female midwives were the standard, with most women giving birth in their own homes. By the end of World War II, almost all births took place in a hospital.
In 2009 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), midwives attended 12.1% of non-caesarean births, or about one in every eight deliveries, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Midwives do not perform caesarean section deliveries, but are usually affiliated with an obstetrician who will perform that surgery if it becomes necessary.
There are several types of midwives practicing in the United States today. In the United States, people can gain midwifery certification primarily through two paths: Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs) or Direct-Entry Midwives. The main difference between the two is that CNMs require nursing training and licensure while Direct-Entry candidates can enter midwifery without a nursing background.
Midwives treat pregnancy and birth as normal life processes. They monitor the physical, psychological, and social well-being of the mother throughout the childbearing cycle, and provide the family with individualized education, counseling, and prenatal care, as well as continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery, and postpartum support. Most midwives aim to minimize interventions such as induction or acceleration of labor, episiotomy, and caesarean section deliveries.
Many hospital systems in Wisconsin offer midwifery services for in-hospital deliveries. See the resources section below for more information.