UNC Division of Midwifery celebrates 10 years of service at UNC Hospitals

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 — The UNC Division of Midwifery is celebrating ten years of service at UNC Hospitals this week. They are hosting a celebration Thursday, Oct. 8 in the lobby of N.C. Women’s Hospital from 6 – 8 p.m., with catered food and door prizes.

Since its initiation in 1999, when the service began with only one nurse-midwife who assisted in 78 births, it has grown close to 750 percent. Last year, the service assisted in 583 deliveries.

“Ten years ago UNC decided to open the options for women to choose their care,” said Kathy Higgins, director of the Division of Midwifery. “Certified Nurse Midwives care for healthy women throughout their lives – as teens, as adults, during childbirth, family planning, menopause, we’re there for the whole thing.”

The Midwifery Division, which has clinics in two locations, act as independent practitioners of women’s care, despite the misconception that midwives simply act as assistants during the labor and delivery process.

“Certified Nurse-Midwives provide care to women for their well-women exams as well as during pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum,” said Margaret Barreth, a certified nurse-midwife at UNC. “In some ways, the care that certified nurse-midwives provide could be seen as a subset of the care that our physician colleagues provide. In reality, it is much more than that.”

Certified nurse-midwives are the experts in normal pregnancy care. The UNC midwifery service was the first in the state to become a division in a medical school. The Division of Midwifery teaches a class to all third-year UNC medical students “Normal Labor and Delivery,” as well as instructs residents, nursing students, nurse practitioners and student nurse-midwives.

The nurse-midwives work closely with patients to realize their birth preferences. Along with ordering medication and epidurals for patients, they also utilize alternative therapies such as hydrotherapy and aromatherapy. Even simple techniques like turning down the lights or keeping a room quiet can change the atmosphere and relax a laboring mother.

“As long as mom and baby are safe, the most important job that I do is to be patient and support that woman and her family during this exciting and amazing process,” said Barreth. “In our society, it can be difficult to explain why doing less can be better than doing more. But I keep trying!”

The Division of Midwifery is a part of the UNC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the nurse-midwives deliver babies at N.C. Women’s Hospital, rather than an off-site birthing center. This provides assurance to families that, should complications arise, physicians are close by to assist.

Women interested in using this service are encouraged to attend “Meet the Midwives,” a one-hour informational session held on the first Wednesday of each month from 6 – 7 p.m. in N.C. Women’s Hospital. No pre-registration is required.

The anniversary celebration is being held this week in particular because Oct. 4 – 11 is National Midwifery Week. The number of midwife-attended births has increased 33 percent since 1996. Close to 11 percent of all vaginal births in the U.S. are attended by certified nurse-midwives.

Media contact: Ginger Moore, (919) 966-3367, gmoore2@unch.unc.edu

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