Guest Post: How to Choose a Safer Homebirth Midwife — A CNM’s Perspective

Please welcome today’s guest blogger, Deb O’Connell CNM, MS. Deb has a private homebirth and well-woman gynecology practice in Carrboro, NC. She has been a midwife for 11 years and has attended over 800 births. Deb has experience teaching at the university level while managing low and high risk pregnancies, community hospital midwifery, gynecological clinics and homebirth.

While writing this for 10Centimeters, I am reminded of the intense debate that surrounds midwifery care for homebirth here in our country. While this is not an exhaustive list by any means, it is meant to give families an idea of some of the important questions to ask while interviewing a midwife for their homebirth.

I am a Certified Nurse Midwife and I personally feel that CNMs with experience managing high and low risk pregnancies are best equipped to attend a laboring woman who plans a homebirth. Why? CNMs are the only credentialed midwife legal in all 50 states. CNMs have been trained and have worked within the hospital setting – exposing them to both high/low risk pregnancies. Most hospital trained CNMs in practice will “catch” anywhere between 50-150 babies a year depending on the size/volume of their practice. CNMs have a master’s level education. CNMs have the lowest neonatal mortality rate of any other provider documented by the Center for Disease Control. Most CNMs are registered nurses that have then decided to move forward with their midwifery education. RNs have a vast knowledge of assessment skills, clinical skills and documented excellence of care. RNs are also licensed in all 50 states and a consumer can go to their state board of nursing to view complaints/grievances filed against their licensed CNM/RN. Finally, CNMs are credentialed to provide full scope midwifery which includes well woman care beyond pregnancy as well as contraception management and menopausal management.

However women will choose whom they want to attend them at birth – regardless of the midwives’ education level, training, experience, credential (or lack thereof) or even licensure.

Let the buyer beware.

Homebirth is not safe for every woman and any midwife who tells you that is grossly misinformed. Birth is not to be trusted – it is to be RESPECTED.

Homebirth is not as safe for baby as being born in a hospital – the NCB community can state it is (and in the past I have stated it as well) – however research has proven differently and parents need to be made aware that if the midwife they choose does not know how to recognize / anticipate when normal is turning into abnormal during the labor or birth, the results can be disasterous for mother and baby. A mother’s birth experience does not trump the safety of her fetus/newborn .

Parents who choose to have their birth at home should be sure their midwife has the following:

  1. Has experience in managing both low and high risk pregnancies.
  2. Licensed and credentialed to practice in your state.
  3. Carries malpractice insurance.
  4. Has a professional relationship with an OB/GYN or Maternal Fetal Medicine team for collaboration, consultation, referral, transfer and transport if needed.
  5. Has a well- organized transport system for her clients and reviews this with you during the pregnancy.
  6. Is willing to share her risk- out criteria, her practice guidelines, her stats and her professional license numbers with you (This should actually be a printed disclosure statement that accompanies the informed consent she has you sign).
  7. Asks you about the distance your home is from the hospital that has an OB Unit – ideally you should live no further than 30 minutes from your nearest hospital.
  8. Has another midwife or RN that attends each and every birth with her and they are both current in their BCLS and NRP certifications and have also had experience managing both low and high risk pregnancies.
  9. Follows you through your pregnancy to six weeks after birth.