A Study of the Beliefs and Birthing Practices of Traditional Midwives in Rural Guatemala


  • Jennifer B. Lang CNM, MSN,

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    • Jennifer Lang graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 with an MSN in nurse-midwifery. She has worked overseas in the Republic of Yemen with the U.S. Peace Corps and in Guatemala with the volunteer mission Sociedad San Martin de Porres. She is currently practicing in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

  • Elizabeth D. Elkin MN, WHCNP

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    • The authors wish to be recognized as co-authors who contributed equally to this work.

    • Elizabeth Elkin graduated from the University of San Francisco with a BSN in 1983 and from Oregon Health Sciences University with an MN in 1995. She has worked in obstetric nursing for 13 years. In 1992–1993, she volunteered for 6 months with Sociedad San Martin de Porres in the village of San Miguel Pochuta, Guatemala, providing health care and conducting this research. She currently practices as a Women's Health Care Nurse-Practitioner in Portland, Oregon.

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This is a descriptive study of the beliefs and practices of the traditional midwives in a rural Guatemalan village. During pregnancy and birth, traditional midwives who have received minimal or no training attend more than 80% of the indigenous Mayan women. Data were obtained from interviews with the midwives and from direct observation of midwives attending births. The midwives had few skills with which to handle complications. They failed to use basic aseptic technique and were unfamiliar with lifesaving skills such as fundal massage and proper infant stimulation. Even though most of the midwives interviewed had attended a Ministry of Health training course, they lacked basic knowledge of safe obstetric practices. To reduce infant and maternal mortality rates, traditional midwives must be adequately trained. The teaching methods used by an indigenous Guatemalan group training elderly, illiterate midwives are described as an example of an effective training program.