Midwife-led care confers benefits for pregnant women and their babies and is recommended.
In many parts of the world, midwives are the primary providers of care for childbearing women. Elsewhere it may be medical doctors or family physicians who have the main responsibility for care, or the responsibility may be shared. The underpinning philosophy of midwife-led care is normality, continuity of care and being cared for by a known and trusted midwife during labour. There is an emphasis on the natural ability of women to experience birth with minimum intervention. Some models of midwife-led care provide a service through a team of midwives sharing a caseload, often called 'team' midwifery. Another model is 'caseload midwifery', where the aim is to offer greater continuity of caregiver throughout the episode of care. Caseload midwifery aims to ensure that the woman receives all her care from one midwife or her/his practice partner. All models of midwife-led care are provided in a multi-disciplinary network of consultation and referral with other care providers. By contrast, medical-led models of care are where an obstetrician or family physician is primarily responsible for care. In shared-care models, responsibility is shared between different healthcare professionals.
The review of midwife-led care covered midwives providing care antenatally, during labour and postnatally. This was compared with models of medical-led care and shared care, and identified 11 trials, involving 12,276 women. Midwife-led care was associated with several benefits for mothers and babies, and had no identified adverse effects.
The main benefits were a reduction in the use of regional analgesia, with fewer episiotomies or instrumental births. Midwife-led care also increased the woman's chance of being cared for in labour by a midwife she had got to know, and the chance of feeling in control during labour, having a spontaneous vaginal birth and initiating breastfeeding. However, there was no difference in caesarean birth rates.
Women who were randomised to receive midwife-led care were less likely to lose their baby before 24 weeks' gestation, although there were no differences in the risk of losing the baby after 24 weeks, or overall. In addition, babies of women who were randomised to receive midwife-led care were more likely to have a shorter length of hospital stay.
The review concluded that most women should be offered midwife-led models of care, although caution should be exercised in applying this advice to women with substantial medical or obstetric complications.