A new research review finds that women who receive consistent care from midwives during pregnancy have better outcomes than those who see family doctors or obstetricians. This review, conducted by the Cochrane Library, found that moms who saw midwives were less likely to need medical interventions or to give birth prematurely.
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The reviewers looked at 13 trials of more than 16,000 women who saw a small team of midwives throughout their pregnancy, or one primary midwife. Eight of the trials included women who were at low-risk for complications during pregnancy and birth, while five included higher-risk women. All of the midwives were licensed in their respective countries, and none of the trials looked at home births.
On the whole, women who saw midwives throughout their pregnancy were less likely to have an epidural painkiller, an episiotomy (an incision made from the vagina to anus during delivery), or a delivery using instruments, such as a vacuum or forceps. There were no differences in Cesarean birth rates.
Women who received continuous care from midwives also were less likely to have a baby before 37 weeks of gestation, or to lose their babies before 24 weeks.
Notably, higher-risk women who saw a midwife as their point-person did not have worse outcomes than low-risk women -- a discovery the researchers interpreted with cautious optimism.
"This is an important finding, because it means that midwives have something to offer women who are not low-risk, when they are coordinating care with a primary care physician or an OBGYN," argued review author Jane Sandall, with the division of women's health at Kings College, London.
For now, the researchers can only guess why continuous midwife care seems to confer important benefits.
"Having someone who is there for you, who you know is going to be there at your birth is important to women," said Sandall. "Because women know their midwives, and they're often easier to get in touch with them, the midwives are picking up any problems sooner and helping women get the right specialist input as early as possible."
Image: Newborn baby and mom, via Shutterstock