Pregnancy Becoming 'Over-Medicalised', Say Experts

14/08/2014 17:02 | Updated 20 May 2015

midwife with woman in labour

A new series of studies on midwifery argues that an increase in midwife-led births rather than 'over-medicalised' hospital deliveries would lead to a range of physical and mental benefits for women and babies.

The papers, published in British medical journal The Lancet, report that in high-income nations such as Britain, midwife-led units experienced a higher rate of spontaneous natural births, which have been linked to a lower incidence of mental health issues in new mothers.

Midwife-led births also recorded a lower rate of medical intervention than traditional labour wards.

This included less recourse to caesarean section, cutting during labour and assisted birth, although infant outcomes remained the same as those of a hospital maternity ward.

The authors of the paper condemned 'unnecessary interventions' commonly practised during hospital births in both high and low-income countries, from restricting the labouring woman's movements to cutting or caesarean sections.

This is of particular concern in less developed nations, where medical intervention carries a higher risk of damage or death to mothers and babies, as well as potentially incurring ruinous medical costs to low-income families.

Researchers argued that increasing the number of midwives in low-income nations could have an enormous impact on maternal and infant mortality.

One study in the series found that scaling up midwifery provision by just a quarter in developing countries would halve the rate of deaths in childbirth globally by 2030.

Current estimates suggest that around 300,000 women globally die during pregnancy or birth.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, welcomed the findings of the series, which she said had 'enormous significance' both for midwifery in the UK and internationally.

"Very importantly, the authors emphasise the need to avoid unnecessary interventions in childbirth, a position the RCM has been advocating and promoting for some time," she said in an official statement.

The UK is currently undergoing a serious staffing crisis in midwifery, with the RCM warning that four out of five NHS trusts have too few midwives.

In April, Cathy Warwick called the increase in understaffed maternity units 'a recipe for disaster'.

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