Is Using a Midwife a Mistake?

Pregnant woman holding sign that reads 'Midwife or OBGYN?'

When it comes to the birth of your baby, you have the choice either to use an obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN) in a traditional hospital setting or to enlist the help of a midwife to assist you with delivery from your home. Most people don’t find the atmosphere of a hospital appealing, and thus many may find a home birth via midwife or other midwife-led delivery to be an attractive option. Though the term “midwife” may sound old-fashioned, today certified nurse-midwives are trained medical professionals who specialize in childbirth.

Nonetheless, regardless of experience and expertise, using a midwife for a home birth comes with added risks, particularly for high-risk pregnancies. If an unexpected emergency arises during labor, you’ll have to either be rushed to the hospital or do without an experienced medical team with many resources at their disposal. As a result, you or your baby may incur injuries during birth. Should you or your child suffer an injury in this circumstance, you should seek the advice of an experienced midwife malpractice attorney.

Is  a Midwife-Led Delivery the Right Choice?

For thousands of years, babies were born at home. In fact, today’s practice of giving birth in a hospital under the care of a medical doctor only began in the twentieth century, with the advent of using regional anesthesia during labor.

However, the trend has begun to come full circle. An increasing number of expectant mothers are choosing a more natural birthing experience—either at home or in a birthing center—under the care and supervision of a certified nurse-midwife (CNM). In fact, although midwife-assisted births account for only 8% of U.S. deliveries, more than two-thirds of births in the U.K. and other countries involve a midwife.

Doctors and midwives have the same goal: to keep the mother healthy and deliver a healthy baby. As a mother-to-be, your decisions regarding the care you receive leading up to and during the birth all depend on where you want to give birth. A midwife can deliver babies at home or in a birthing center or hospital, while an OBGYN delivers babies only at a hospital or its adjacent birthing center. Midwifery practices often have a relationship with an OBGYN should a situation (such as an emergency C-section) arise that is beyond their skill set. 

Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) are highly trained health professionals who provide prenatal care, assistance during labor and delivery, and postpartum care. In fact, they work as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which means they can prescribe medications and assume more medical responsibilities than a registered nurse. A certified nurse-midwife must earn advanced practice licensure at the state level, along with nurse midwife certification by the American Midwifery Certification Board before they can begin practicing. Because these credentials require graduate-level schooling, CNMs must also earn either a master’s or doctoral degree.

Midwives usually offer more one-on-one care during labor and delivery, and have a more hands-on approach at all stages of the pregnancy. This is also reflective of the midwife-patient relationship throughout the pregnancy and birth. Whereas doctors are trained to take a clinical tone with patients, a midwife might develop a personal relationship with the patient, which may make the experience more relaxed for mothers-to-be. 

When Mistakes Happen

Midwives are generally not qualified to manage high-risk pregnancies or complications that may occur during childbirth. Should a complication arise during birth, you will be transferred to a hospital for emergency care with a physician whom you’re most likely meeting for the first time. The time it takes for a midwife to realize a baby or mother is in trouble and arrange for transport to the hospital are precious minutes that can make a difference in whether the baby or mother is injured in the process, and the extent of the birth injury.

Midwives are unable to induce labor, administer antibiotics, or perform emergency C-sections. Labor can take hours upon hours, but delivery can also unfold at a rapid pace, with many things happening simultaneously. With just one person—the midwife—there to ensure a safe delivery, the potential to miss signs of trouble can escalate. And that may mean a delayed response that could prevent or mitigate injury to the baby or mother. 

For many U.S. parents, this makes an OBGYN the preferred choice for delivery, especially if it is known in advance that the birth will be complicated by certain factors: multiple births (e.g., twins, triplets, etc.), women with prior C-sections, breech births, women with prior stillbirths or other pregnancy-related complications, and women with other comorbid medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Of course, any labor and delivery can become an emergency situation while it is ongoing.

To be fair, OBGYNs can be negligent in the course of a delivery too. No matter who is responsible, the potential impacts of mistakes by medical providers during delivery can be profoundly life-altering for both the baby and the mother. They can include fractures, hemorrhage, permanent brain injury, permanent nerve damage, and even death. What’s more, what may appear to be minimal injuries now can become life-long impairments.

If you experienced a birth injury during your labor and delivery and feel that using a midwife resulted in harmful mistakes, it’s important first to avoid self-blame; you made a decision based on your specific circumstances, and what matters now is ensuring that you and your child’s resulting financial needs are taken care of. Legal action may provide the compensation you’ll need to help in your recovery and potential for long-term care. 

Experienced Birth Injury Lawyers at Your Side

If you have legal questions about the medical care you received from a midwife practitioner, we’re here to help you understand your rights and legal options. Backed by decades of combined medical and legal experience, the team at Janet, Janet & Suggs has helped families across the U.S. with their birth injury claims, recovering hundreds of millions in compensation that changed their lives. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation, and we’ll help you decide your next best steps.

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