May 5 marked the 22nd annual International Day of the Midwife.
Midwives play an important role in South Carolina’s maternity care system both historically and today. South Carolina had one of the largest populations of practicing “granny” midwives in the South, with up to 4,000 in the 1920s. Granny midwifery refers to the Southern African-American tradition of experientially trained older women attending births in the community. These midwives were vital in improving health outcomes for mothers and babies, especially in rural and impoverished communities where hospitals or physicians were inaccessible.
In the ‘70s many states began to ban midwifery in an effort to eliminate granny midwives. In 1982 S.C. was one of the first states to start licensing and regulating direct-entry midwives. Today, South Carolina’s direct entry midwives are apprentice trained and required to complete a state approved educational program as a requirement for licensure.
The licensed midwifery community has remained small since its beginnings in the ‘80s but has recently experienced a growth surge. Women and families can choose to birth at home or in a free-standing birth center under the care of licensed midwives. If families are hesitant to choose out of hospital care, South Carolina offers certified nurse-midwifery care in several hospitals and private OB/GYN practices. Certified nurse-midwives are trained as nurses with an advanced degree in nurse-midwifery.
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Families in S.C. are fortunate to have so many options for maternity care. It is imperative to keep the public informed and continue to keep all options accessible.
The writer is public policy co-chair for the South Carolina Birth Coalition.