Best Evidence: Caregiver
What is the bottom line?
Despite these overall patterns, the practice styles of individual caregivers vary. The attitudes and style of individual caregivers, as well as the specific care environment, have a major impact on the type of care that a woman receives.
What is the best evidence about advantages and disadvantages of different types of maternity caregivers available in the U.S.?The information summarized here considers comparisons between different types of maternity caregivers in the past two decades. The focus is on U.S. studies, due to wide variation in background and practice arrangements of maternity caregivers throughout the world. The conclusions do not apply to women or infants with serious health problems or at high risk for developing such problems. At this time, systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials — the preferred types of research — are not available to make these comparisons. Although less definitive, the many available individual studies, and several less formal reviews, show consistent patterns.
Care by certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) is generally associated with a lower likelihood of using various labor and birth interventions than maternity care with doctors. The care of family physicians tends to involve less intervention than care by obstetricians. The many studies comparing two or three types of caregivers have generally found that providing more interventions does not lead to better outcomes. These results have generally been found for well, low-risk women and for women in challenging social circumstances (for example, low-income or adolescent mothers).
Raisler (2000) reviews studies comparing midwifery care (primarily CNMs) to physician care in the U.S. Klein and Zander (1989) review earlier studies comparing maternity care by family physicians and obstetricians. More recent individual studies are consistent with findings of the earlier review. The available body of research does not provide a good basis for comparing care and outcomes of either osteopathic physicians or midwives who are not CNMs. It is reasonable to assume that midwives who are not CNMs and practice in out-of-hospital settings have low rates of intervention in comparison with other types of maternity caregivers.
Very large studies are needed to understand patterns of rare but serious events, such as newborn death. One study compared over 150,000 births attended by nurse-midwives in the U.S. in 1991 to nearly 700,000 births attended by physicians that year (MacDorman and Singh 1998). The authors made adjustments to account for differences in medical and social risk factors in the two groups. They found that women attended by nurse-midwives were less likely than similar women attended by physicians to experience:
Hodnett ED. Pain and women's satisfaction with the experience of childbirth: a systematic review. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 186,5 (2002) S160-72.
Klein M and Zander L. The role of the family practitioner in maternity care. In: Chalmers I, Enkin M and Keirse MJNC, eds. Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth, volume I. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 181-89.
MacDorman MF and Singh GK. midwifery care, social and medical risk factors, and birth outcomes in the USA. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 52,5 (1998) 310-17.
Raisler J. midwifery care research: What questions are being asked? What lessons have been learned? Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health 54,1 (2000) 20-36.
Most recent page update: 10/23/2012
© 2015 National Partnership for Women & Families. All rights reserved.
Founded in 1918, Childbirth Connection has joined forces with and become a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families. Together, these two women's health powerhouses are transforming maternity care in the United States.
News and Features
Check out our resource, "Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care"
Childbirth Connection has joined forces with and become a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
This interactive timeline highlights our trailblazing work since 1918.
We want all women and babies receive the best possible maternity care.