Alternative Medicine - The Midwife's Role

They Go Hand-In-Hand

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is part of the fabric of midwifery and includes knowledge that has been passed from woman to woman, midwife to midwife, midwife to mother, and back again, keeping the circle of natural health rolling through centuries of care. Since midwifery is considered to be a more holistic approach to childbirth, alternative therapies seem to go hand in hand with the practice. CAM is used by midwives as a means of supporting the natural process of pregnancy and birth, and since it is not biomedical, it honors and respects women's autonomy. They have a choice about use and incorporating natural remedies into their experience as opposed to having conventional medicines foisted upon them.

The Definition of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Alternative medicine is a type of health care that is distinctly separate from conventional western medicine and is defined by The Cochrane Collaboration Complementary Medicine Field as "preventing or treating illness, promoting health and well-being" and to "complement mainstream medicine by 1) contributing to a common whole, 2) satisfying a demand not met by conventional practices and 3) diversifying the conceptual framework of medicine". It is with this understanding that alternative medicine practitioner's work with midwives to develop natural ways to administer aid to women during pregnancy, labor and birth. Many women and their midwives prefer CAM in order to reduce medical interventions in childbirth.

Using CAM to Easy Pregnancy, Labor & Delivery

Although there are not a large number of clinical studies supporting the use of alternative medicine in childbirth, there are several small studies supporting some techniques and natural remedies used to help women during pregnancy, labor and delivery. Acupuncture has been used successfully to address nausea and vomiting, yoga for maternal comfort, labor pain and birth outcomes, and massage on pain and anxiety during labor. A large survey was done in New Zealand and Canada asking midwives to respond regarding the use of CAM with their clients. Midwives indicated that the majority of their clients used some form of complementary alternative medicine during the care they received from the midwives, suggesting more than 60% of their clients used CAM.

Midwives and CAM

The use of CAM along with midwifery is very common, since philosophically, CAM supports normal birth and enhances midwifery care. It is also used to avoid medical interventions, although most would say that the use of CAM during labor and delivery is, in fact, a type of intervention. It isn't conventional medical intervention because it does not use drugs or instruments to interfere with the birth process.

Midwives learn about CAM and its use through alternative medicine schools, courses and workshops, reading the literature and alternative medicine magazines. Connecting with other midwives who use alternative medicine, consulting with other health care professionals and learning from the internet. Programs related to CAM training and education are the primary sources of learning and information for midwives, and, even though most use CAM with their clients, they are also sensitive to those women who prefer not to use alternative methods.

The History of Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine has been around for a long time. Midwifery has been around for a long time as well. They have been used together for thousands of years to make the childbirth process easier for women giving birth. The history of alternative medicine is more than 5,000 years old in the Middle East, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. On the subcontinent of India, ayurvedic medicine has a history that exceeds 4,000 years. These types of medicine are based upon medical traditions and interpretations of disease and health. Chinese medicine has 4,000 years of tradition and healing and, Western approaches to alternative medicine have more than 3,000 years of history. Western alternative medicine is based on natural philosophies that are rooted in all aspects of western culture. This is not the new medicine - conventional Western medicine that is used today is the new medicine.

The list of alternative medicine practiced today in the West includes homeopathy, naturopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy and aromatherapy. Many of these are used by midwives to help keep the birth process natural and at the same time aid the women they help without the use of toxic medications or surgical interventions.

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