Having a baby is essentially the same worldwide, though each nation’s approach to prenatal and maternity care varies according to national policy. In Sweden, most mothers-to-be enjoy the services of midwives instead of doctors and nurses. It’s also rated #2 as the best place to be a mom, according to Save the Children, the London-based non-government organization devoted to promotion and protection of children’s rights throughout the world.
Swedish moms usually get only one ultrasound and not a single gynecological exam during a pregnancy, relying instead on the services of midwives for all care to a mother and the child she carries; the service is free. Maternity care is part of the Swedish national healthcare system and it’s been meted out by midwives since the 18th century. In most cases, a woman has one team of midwives guiding her through pregnancy and a second-team that assists with delivery.
Additional health care services are available to mothers experiencing complications of pregnancy. When a midwife detects a concern, she refers the woman to a physician. Also, about half of all Swedish women ask for an epidural during delivery, which requires a physician to administer it.
Marie Berg, a professor in health and care sciences at the University of Gothenburg Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden says, “pregnancy is a normal condition” with no need to treat it as an illness. Sofie Laaftman, a midwife based in Stockholm, agrees, adding that most healthy women under age 40 don’t need medical care to guide them through a process as natural as having a baby.
The Cochrane Collaboration agrees with the value of midwifery. In a scientific study published in August 2013, the organization found most women could benefit from seeing a midwife rather than a doctor during a normal, healthy pregnancy.
The European Perinatal Health Report for 2010 lists these statistics for Sweden:
- 1.5 neonatal deaths per 1,000 births — in all Europe, only Iceland has fewer
- 3.1 per 100,000 deaths of a mother during childbirth
Additionally, only about 17 percent of all Sweden’s childbirths in 2011 were by cesarean section (c-section). Only about 10 percent of all births involved an episiotomy.
In most of Europe, midwifery is giving way to Westernized maternity care and delivery practices but not so in Sweden. Midwives enjoy the full support of Swedish physicians and a strong bond of mutual respectability has developed between the two disciplines.