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Midwifery Care Research: What Questions Are Being Asked? What Lessons Have Been Learned?


  • Jeanne Raisler CNM, DrPH, FACNM

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    • Jeanne Raisler attended the Columbia University nurse-midwifery education program, and has practiced and taught midwifery since 1976 in New York, San Francisco, Mozambique, Baltimore, and currently in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She received a doctorate in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1995. She is an assistant professor in the nurse-midwifery education program at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, where she conducts research on breastfeeding and midwifery care. She has been an associate editor of the Journal of Nurse-Midwifery for 16 years.

Jeanne Raisler, CNM, DrPH, FACNM, Nurse-Midwifery Program, University of Michigan School of Nursing, 400 N. Ingalls, Room 3320, Ann Arbor, MI 48109–0482; e-mail:


Purpose: To create and critically evaluate a research database about midwifery care that identifies topics studied, research methods, results, funding, publication data, and implications for a future midwifery research agenda.

Methods: Systematic literature review. Studies included were 1) data-based research; 2) about midwifery care or practice; 3) in the United States; and 4) published between 1984–1998. The CINAHL and MEDLINE electronic databases were searched using a defined strategy, and relevant journals and bibliographies were searched by hand.

Results: This 15-year review identified 140 studies of midwifery care published in 161 papers. A midwife was the lead author on 60%. Sixty percent were published in the Journal of Nurse-Midwifery. Six to 15 studies were published each year, and both the number of publications and funding increased over the time period. The six major areas of focus were: 1) midwifery management, 2) structure of care, 3) midwifery practice, 4) midwife–physician comparisons, 5) place of birth, and 6) care of vulnerable populations.

Discussion: Although retrospective descriptive studies still predominate, more prospective studies, randomized controlled trials, multi-site studies, and quasi-experimental designs are being conducted. Qualitative methods are helping to measure nontraditional outcomes. A research agenda should be established based on discussion and debate within the profession. Midwife investigators need to build research teams and collaborate with other disciplines. Key areas for future research include alternative therapies, breastfeeding, cost-effectiveness, cultural studies, gynecology, health policy, menopause, post-partum care, substance abuse interventions, and the woman's experience of birth and midwifery care.