Why We Need More Midwives in America: It's a Life or Death Issue


If you've never seen the BBC series Call the Midwife, check it out on your next Netflix-and-chill night—that's if you're game for an hour (and then another hour, and then another hour) of the most rollicking, eye-opening, laugh-and-cry TV entertainment to grace screens in a long while. Set in London's East End in the 1950s and '60s, the series kicked off in 2012, and Season 7 starts on March 25. So catch up fast if you get hooked, like we are! The show is based on the memoirs of former midwife Jennifer Worth, and early episodes had voice-overs by Vanessa Redgrave.

In England, midwives play a central role and are involved in half of all childbirths. Kate Middleton used a midwife for her first two births. In the U.S., midwifery is marginalized, and some states make it nearly impossible for midwives to practice. But a new article this week in ProPublica by Nina Martin, one of the journalists behind the groundbreaking Lost Mothers series, reports on a recent study showing how the states that integrate midwives into the health care system have the best health outcomes for mothers and babies. States that don't support midwifery show the worst outcomes on a range of maternal and baby health indicators, including C-sections, premature births, and neo-natal deaths.

Internationally, countries where midwifes play a key role in childbirth also have the lowest maternal and infant mortality rates. The U.S., as you might know by now, has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and that rate is on the rise.

Thanks to ongoing efforts by U.S.-based doctors and hospitals to marginalize midwifes—for reasons that range from racism to class discrimination and economic competition—the profession remains underfunded and understaffed. 

ProPublica's article is an insightful read, and looks poised to trigger a wider national conversation about midwifery, and about what pregnant women, health practitioners, and the medical profession can do to bring more attention to midwives and the crucial care they provide.

Also worth the time: a related segment today on WNYC, the NPR affiliate in New York, in which ProPublica's Nina Simons talks more about the role of midwives in improved outcomes for mothers and babies, and about how racism, lack of funding for midwifery training programs, and the health profession's smear campaign against midwives are contributing to an ongoing health crisis for women and babies in the U.S.