Sunday, June 27, 2010

How Midwifery Care Can Reduce Racial Disparities In Birth Outcomes

At the request of Courtroom Mama posting at The Unnecessarean, I watched the documentary Crisis in the Crib: Saving Our Nations Babies. I think the film does a great job of raising awareness on the issue of racial disparities in birth outcomes and infant mortality in the United States. It really got me thinking about what factors contribute to this disparity. I think it is a very complex problem, and it can be difficult to pinpoint all of the causes. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and lack of access to care are all factors, but they don't explain why there is still a disparity for babies of college educated black women. The film suggests higher stress levels and the lack of presence of a supportive partner as possible additional factors that could influence middle class populations. There are also some life-course factors.

As I was considering these factors and trying to decide what to write this blog post about, I remembered this video from last year's The Big Push for Midwives Issue Briefing for members of Congress showing Jennie Joseph, LM, CPM talking about her birth center, The Birth Place, in Orlando, Florida.

It's pretty clear that The Birth Place has drastically fewer racial disparities than her area's average. She attributes the difference to their care being more accessible to the uninsured, but I think that is only part of the story. I believe that the obstetric model of care, which is the norm in the U.S., is failing black women. Here are some components of the midwifery model that I believe may better meet their needs:

  • Focus on Preventing Complications with Healthy Lifestyle - While obstetric practices generally focus mostly on screening for pathology, midwifery care includes extensive counseling on nutrition and exercise during pregnancy. This approach integrates prevention of problems.
  • Individualized Care - Midwives strive to make their care specific to the needs of individual women instead of providing one-size-fits-all care that may be more suited to one race than another.
  • Holistic Treatment - Midwifery care treats the whole woman, not just her body. Prenatal care that is only a medical check up is a missed opportunity to resolve other issues that could contribute to disparities, including social and emotional stresses in the woman's life.
  • Longer Prenatal Visits - The average length of a midwife visit is significantly longer than one with a physician. This allows more time to focus on these issues and develop a trusting caregiver/client relationship.
  • Relaxation Practice - Birth centers do not offer epidurals, so midwives at a birth center would encourage women to prepare for a natural birth. In fact, State of Florida Law requires that birth centers counsel their clients to receive appropriate childbirth education. This preparation usually involves relaxation practice, which can be helpful for dealing with stress.
  • Empowering Education - Midwifery supports women in being educated and involved in decisions about their care instead of letting the birth professional make most of the choices for them. This can help them learn to take responsibility for themselves and their babies, both during and after the childbearing cycle.
I believe that the caring, sensitive, woman-centered model of midwifery care may be exactly what is needed to reverse the terrible trends we see in maternity care today and make great bounds in resolving the disparity we see between races in maternity care in the U.S.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to see midwives become the norm for prenatal care! Laws in some areas just don't make that possible. Around here there is one tiny birth center with one midwife. And I live in a good sized city! But there are so many legal restrictions as far as who midwives are "allowed" to treat, I'm not surprised it's so hard to find one. We have a high c-section rate, and they are prohibited from having a VBAC patient. So that leaves a lot of us without even having the option of midwife care...