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Midwifery. 2013 Oct;29(10):1122-8. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2013.07.007. Epub 2013 Aug 2.

What does it take to have a strong and independent profession of midwifery? Lessons from the Netherlands.

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Faculty of Midwifery Education & Studies, Zuyd University, Maastricht, Netherlands; CAPHRI, School for Public Health and Primary Care, Maastricht University, Netherlands; Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI, USA. Electronic address:


In the 1970s, advocates of demedicalising pregnancy and birth 'discovered' Dutch maternity care. The Netherlands presented an attractive model because its maternity care system was characterised by a strong and independent profession of midwifery, close co-operation between obstetricians and midwives, a very high rate of births at home, little use of caesarean section, and morbidity and mortality statistics that were among the best in the developed world. Over the course of the following 40 years much has changed in the Netherlands. Although the home birth rate remains quite high when compared to other modern countries, it is half of what it was in the 1970s. Midwifery is still an independent medical profession, but a move toward 'integrated care' threatens to bring midwives into hospitals under the direction of medical specialists, more women are interested in medical pain relief, and there is a growing concern that current, albeit slight, increases in rates of intervention in physiological births foreshadow the end of the unique approach to birth in the Netherlands. The story of Dutch maternity care thus offers an ideal opportunity to examine the social, organisational, and cultural factors that work to support, and to diminish, the independent practice of midwifery in high-resource countries. We may wish to believe that providing ample and convincing evidence of the value of midwifery care will be enough to promote more and better use of midwifery, but the lessons from the Netherlands make clear that an array of social forces play a critical role determining the place of midwives in the health care system and how the care they provide is deployed.


Home birth; Maternity care; Midwifery; Sociology of science

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