Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Access to Midwifery Care Improves Maternity Outcomes

by Tina Johnson, CNM, MS, ACNM Director of Professional Practice & Health Policy

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will bring millions of newly insured citizens into the health care system. In order to meet the country’s needs, leaders are calling for high value, evidence-based solutions. Let’s start with the health condition that affects 100% of all Americans...childbirth! How can we provide high quality, high value maternity care for all women and families? The answers are in the evidence: midwifery care improves maternal and newborn outcomes and patient satisfaction, reduces health disparities, and saves money and resources.

The U.S. grossly outspends every other nation per capita on health care, yet our maternal and newborn outcomes lag far behind those of other developed nations. Childbirth is the number one reason for hospitalization, and its related hospital charges surpass those of any other health condition. Resource-intensive interventions like labor induction, epidural analgesia and cesarean section are overused, often without indication or consideration of alternatives, resulting in increased risk of maternal and newborn harm.

Cesarean section is the single most common operating room procedure in the U.S., and the rate is steadily climbing. Incredibly, in 2007, nearly one-third of American women delivered their babies by cesarean section. Maternal mortality has risen dramatically, and glaring racial disparities in maternal and neonatal outcomes persist.

How can we reverse these disturbing trends? Ensure that all women have access to maternity care providers and practices that support the normal processes of birth. Labor support, freedom of movement, intermittent monitoring, alternative birth settings, vaginal birth after cesarean...all have been identified as evidence-based practices that are underused.

Midwives truly are the experts in supporting healthy vaginal birth in all settings. Midwives caring for low-risk women improve infant mortality rates in both hospitals and birth centers when compared with physicians caring for equally low-risk women. Midwife-led models of group prenatal care reduce preterm and low birthweight rates and improve patient satisfaction. Birth centers provide improved outcomes for even the most at-risk women, reducing preterm birth, low birthweight and cesarean section rates, and reducing costs to our health care system. Skilled midwifery care is the gold standard among nations with the best maternal and neonatal outcomes, and has been identified as essential to reducing maternal mortality worldwide.

It’s time to bring that message back home. The time is now to promote and support midwifery in America—and to follow the evidence.

This post was originally published on the the Center to Champion Nursing in America (CCNA) blog. Visit CCNA to join more conversation about this post.

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