Safety of non-medically led primary maternity care models: a critical review of the international literature

Meredith Joy McIntyre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The Australian government has announced major reforms with the move to a primary maternity care model. The direction of the reforms remains contentious; with the Australian Medical Association warning that the introduction of non-medically led services will compromise current high standards in maternity services and threaten the safety of mothers and babies. The purpose of this paper is to conduct a critical review of the literature to determine whether there is convincing evidence to support the safety of non-medically led models of primary maternity care. Twenty-two non-randomised international studies were included representing midwifery-led care, birth centre care and home birth. Comparative outcome measurements included: perinatal mortality; perinatal morbidity; rates of medical intervention in labour; and antenatal and intrapartum referral and transfer rates. Findings support those of the three Cochrane reviews, that there is sufficient international evidence to support the conclusion of no difference in outcomes associated with low risk women in midwifery-led, birth centre and home birth models compared with standard hospital or obstetric care. These findings are limited to services involving qualified midwives working within rigorous exclusion, assessment and referral guidelines, limiting the number of urgent intrapartum transfers that come with increased risk of perinatal mortality. What is known about the topic? Systematic reviews of maternal and perinatal outcomes associated with midwifery-led care when compared to conventional intrapartum hospital care concluded that these non-medically led models of care are associated with several benefits for low risk women and their babies with no identified adverse effects. What does this paper add? The finding of no difference in outcomes associated with midwifery-led, birth centre and home birth compared with standard hospital or obstetric care is limited to international studies involving women in the care of qualified midwives working within rigorous guidelines for practice involving inter-professionally agreed exclusion, assessment and referral criteria. What are the implications for practitioners? Midwives caring for women in non-medically led models are urged to be vigilant to the need for early detection and prompt action in the event of unforseen complications to avoid an over emphasis on normality. This decreases the likelihood of urgent intrapartum transfers that come with an increased risk of perinatal mortality
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140 - 147
Number of pages8
JournalAustralian Health Review
Volume36
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Cite this