Alix Bacon, president of the Midwives Association of B.C., says 35 per cent of births on Vancouver Island are assisted by midwives. Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist
Vancouver Island has more midwife-assisted births than anywhere else in the country, according to a report by the Midwives Association of B.C.
“It’s exciting to be ahead of our goal here,” said president Alix Bacon at a national conference taking place in Victoria this week.
“Our vision was that midwives be part of 35 per cent of births in B.C. by 2020. On the Island, we already have 35 per cent,” Bacon said. Twenty-one per cent of B.C. births in 2014-15 involved midwives.
B.C. leads the country in midwife-assisted births, which vary widely depending on policy and access to care. Yukon and some Maritime provinces don’t have any midwives. Others, such as Ontario, have policies that restrict midwives’ roles. That province’s 708 midwives are involved in 15 per cent of births.
“We believe that reaching our goal can reduce the burden on the health-care system and close the gap for maternity care,” Bacon said.
The number of family doctors practising obstetrics has decreased in recent years and that trend is expected to continue. At the same time, the number of births is expected to increase, and many midwifery practices already have waitlists. The province has improved access to midwives and the University of B.C. midwifery program, a four-year program, recently doubled its seats to 20 to meet demand.
“We know that midwife-assisted births have many health benefits,” said Bacon, who is a practising midwife in Ladner. These include shorter hospital stays, a reduction in medical interventions such as epidurals and caesareans, as well as better breastfeeding outcomes.
Midwifery services are covered under the provincial Medical Services Plan. Women can choose either a midwife or a maternity doctor and give birth at home (if the pregnancy is considered low risk) or in the hospital. Midwives provide a range of care from prenatal tests and education to post-natal home care.
“People are often surprised at the scope of the care we offer,” said Victoria midwife Jody Medernach. “They like the continuity of one person in labour with them and the relationship in post-partum care. It can be emotional and social support as well.”
Medernach said about 70 per cent of the births she attends are in hospital. She said a long-established leadership in midwifery in Victoria, coupled with strong working relationships with medical staff has benefited the Island.
Island Health recently restructured to include midwifery in maternity care and pediatrics. The restructuring includes leadership and division roles for midwives for the first time.
“It shows Island Health recognizes the important unique role midwives have,” said Jill Pearman, a midwife and deputy department head. “Our midwives have a strong, full scope as primary care providers and there is a strong consumer demand for our services.”
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