Percentage of midwifery births in Canada remains low

It is perplexing why we have so few midwifery births in Canada.

Ivy Lynn Bourgeault

TROY MEDIA

It is perplexing why we have so few midwifery births in Canada.

At last count, there were roughly a little over 1.300 midwives attending less than 10 per cent of births in Canada. This figure stands in stark contrast with the Netherlands where upwards of 80 per cent of women are cared for by a midwife, and the UK, where midwives attend all births and are primarily responsible for the majority.

Part of the cause is that Canada was one of a handful of countries (and the only Western industrialized nation) not to have any provisions for midwifery care prior to 1993. In the last 20 years, there has been growth in the profession, but only modest. At the same time there has been a rapid exodus of family physicians no longer delivering babies – for a number of reasons, including that attending births is disruptive to one’s practice and one’s lifestyle. Babies like to come at all hours of the day and night, and not neatly into nine to five time slots, Monday to Friday.

By default, it is obstetricians – specialists in high risk maternity care – who have been left to address this gap in childbirth attendance. In Canada, family physicians largely refer pregnant women to obstetricians, in part because there are too few midwives available.

It is important to note that maternity care providers are not interchangeable. Midwives, family physicians and obstetricians all deliver babies with a different approach. Obstetricians are trained to manage high-risk pregnancies and birth; this requires vigilance and often intervention. Having obstetricians attend more women with low risk pregnancies can result in more interventions being done on women for whom the interventions are less appropriate, less effective and less evidence-based.

Indeed, a rapidly increasing Caesarean section rate can be seen, in part, as a symptom of this mismatched approach to low-risk care. The fact that C-sections rank as the top surgical procedure across Canadian hospitals (over 100,000 in 2012/13), eclipsing the next most frequent procedure (hips and knee replacement) by a factor of almost two fold, should cause some serious reflection on the state of maternity care in Canada.

Midwives are trained to manage low risk pregnancies and birth in a way that is also vigilant, involving time, patience – but with fewer interventions. One of the highest standards of evidence – a Cochrane review – confirmed the safety and efficacy of midwifery led care as an option that should be available to all women. Closer to home, an evaluation of the midwifery approach to maternity care in Ontario noted that midwives have lower intervention rates, fewer re-admissions to hospital and shorter hospital stays. This difference in approach translates into a cost savings of $800 per midwifery-attended hospital birth and a savings of $1,800 for home births when compared with family physician care for women with low risk pregnancies. This is one of those rare win-win situations in healthcare.

So, how can we begin to move forward to address this perplexing situation?

First, we need to begin to shift who provides low-risk maternity care in Canada through a coordinated and sustained expansion of midwifery education programs across the country. We quite simply need more midwives so we need to train substantially more and we need to start doing this now. We also need a parallel increase in employment and practice opportunities for midwives now, and for those who will be coming out of these programs. This is particularly important in those provinces and territories where there is, as of yet, no provisions for midwifery care.

There will be costs to be sure, but this new training could build on the present infrastructure for midwifery education and practice in Canada. More to the point, the costs will be significantly less than the status quo of a continued rising intervention and Caesarean-section rate reflecting a maternity care landscape that exists nearly nowhere else in the world.

Undertaking these actions, and quickly, will enable us to get back to being unique in ways that are more exemplary.

Ivy Lynn Bourgeault is an expert advisor for EvidenceNetwork.ca, a Professor in the Telfer School of Management and the Institute of Population Health at the University of Ottawa. She holds a CIHR Chair in Gender, Work and Health Human Resources. She consults with a number of provincial ministries of Health, with Health Canada, the Pan American Health Organization and the WHO.

 

Just Posted

Influenza hits hard in Alberta

Flu season hits hard

UPDATE: Highway 2 lanes were closed due to milk truck fire near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Ice fishing enjoyed by all

Crestomere 4-H members enjoy ice fishing

Major announcement planned for Tuesday at Westerner Park

Hopes are that the CFR will be relocating to Red Deer

Volunteers busy

Volunteers at Pas Ka Poo Park

Volunteers busy

Volunteers at Pas Ka Poo Park

Barenaked Ladies, Steven Page, to be inducted into Canadian Music Hall of Fame

Canadian band to get top honours at 2018 JUNO Awards

B.C. out of the running for Amazon’s next headquarters

Toronto is the only Canadian city left in the running despite the province backing Metro Vancouver’s bid for new Amazon headquarters

Post interest rate hike debt tips

What to do about your debt and mortgages after the interest rate hike

Foreign workers sleeping in Alberta Burger King basement

Alberta Health Services said its inspectors found foreign workers sleeping in the basement of the Lethbridge restaurant

Court application halts release of bread price-fixing documents

Bread price-fixing documents won’t be unsealed Thursday, Loblaw says

Pharrell and N.E.R.D to headline NBA All-Star halftime show

11-time Grammy winner Pharrell and his hip hop-rock band N.E.R.D. will headline the halftime show at the 2018 NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles

Heritage Minister wants zero tolerance for harassment in entertainment industry

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly had two meetings to discuss harassment in the film, TV and theatre worlds

Newly freed Diab wants reforms to Canada’s ‘lousy’ extradition law

French authorities dropped terrorism charges against Hassan Diab who was suspected of taking part in an attack in Paris in 1980

Most Read