The Qualifications of US Home Birth Midwives

In trying to understand why the risks of home birth are so elevated compared to hospital birth, it's important to understand the "qualifications" of home birth midwives.

There are several different types of midwives in the United States and if you're not familiar with all of them their titles can sound similar and confusing. CNM, CPM, CM, DEM, LM...what's the difference? As Danielle Repp explains in her series "American Midwives": 

"There are two midwifery certifying bodies in the USA: American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) and North American Registry of Midwives (NARM). The AMCB is considered the Gold Standard for midwifery certification and is the certifying body for Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) and Certified Midwives (CMs); NARM is the certifying body for Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs). Licensed Midwives (LMs) also fall under NARM as it is the NARM entrance exam they take. Specific requirements for LMs may vary by state in order to take the exam."

"So in short, midwives in the USA basically fall into one of these three categories:
1. AMCB certified
2. NARM certified
3. Uncertified"

She continues:
"1. Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)"

"Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) are some of the most highly skilled and educated midwives in the world. The Certified Nurse Midwife is one of the only types of midwives in the world that requires a nursing degree. The CNM also holds a master’s degree as the minimum level of educational requirement (some have doctoral degrees). CNMs must complete their education through an ACME-accredited midwifery program (ACME = Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education). Once completed, they can apply to take the AMCB certification exam."

"Certified Nurse Midwives are licensed and have prescriptive authority in all 50 states (and other territories of the USA). The educational and clinical skills training of the CNM not only includes pregnancy and birth care but also primary care for women throughout life, reproduction, infertility, newborn care, andent of sexually transmitted diseases."

"2. Certified Midwife (CM)"

"The Certified Midwife (CM) credential has existed since 1994. The CM is the direct-entry version of the CNM. While CMs do not need to have a nursing degree, they must take all of the nursing school pre-requisites (such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, etc) and must receive a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. The CM’s educational and clinical skills training is similar to the CNMs, as it again not only includes pregnancy and birth care but also primary care for women throughout life, reproduction, infertility, newborn care, and management of sexually transmitted diseases."

"3. Certified Professional Midwife (CPM)"

"The Certified Professional Midwife credential ... was developed as a direct-entry route to become an out-of-hospital midwife. CPMs are not authorized to work in a hospital setting."

"Certified Professional Midwives do not have any degree requirements. The only educational requirement is to have a high school diploma, which was not a requirement until September 1, 2012."

"The Portfolio Evaluation Process (PEP) is a popular route to become a CPM. It is an apprenticeship where the student midwife follows and learns from a preceptor midwife. After attending 40 births (and the prenatal exams leading up to it), the student midwife can qualify to take the NARM exam. Anyone with a desire to become a midwife can seek out a preceptor. Half of CPMs have earned their credential through the PEP route."

"Another route to become a CPM is to graduate from a Midwifery Education Accreditation Council (MEAC) school. There are nine MEAC schools in the USA, some of which award certifications, some diplomas and some degrees."

"CPMs not have prescriptive authority in any states (in certain states, CPMs are able to obtain certain medications, such as Pitocin, Cytotec, antibiotics, etc but CPMs cannot write prescriptions). CPMs also would not qualify to practice midwifery in other developed countries due to the lack of formal education requirements; the CPM requirements also do not meet the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) standards."

The above was all from Danielle Repp's series American Midwives, part 1, part 2, and part 3; emphasis mine.

Due to the variation in types of training accepted to become a CPM, some CPMs might have enough education to meet the ICM minimum standards. However, the CPM credential itself does not require it, and ACOG estimates that "possibly as many as two-thirds of CPMs do not meet the ICM standards."

I want to repeat - Certified Professional Midwives - the kind of midwives that attend the majority of the home births in the United States - do not have any educational requirements other than a high school degree. And if they became a CPM before 2012, they don't even need that. They don't need to take anatomy, or physiology, or immunology, or even basic college biology.

And do you know what's even worse? In some states, midwives do not have to have any qualifications at all to practice. None. The state where I spent my college years - Utah - has voluntary licensure, which means that if a midwife simply decides that she'd rather not be licensed by the state, she has no educational requirements, no limits on her scope of practice, and no accountability for her actions. This satirical website points out the weaknesses in such a system.

Here are a couple charts that explain the difference between the midwives who work at doctors offices and in hospitals (CNMs) and the majority of home birth midwives (CPMs, LMs, lay midwives, etc.):


Now, if you think you'll be safe at home birth if you choose a CNM instead of a CPM, think again. Researchers in 2009 found that home birth with a CNM had twice as many babies die than hospital birth with a CNM. An even more recent study published in 2016 found that babies born to CNMs and CPMs at home birth died three to four times more often than babies born at the hospital, with no statistically significant difference between home births with CNMs or CPMs. Even if your midwife is a CNM instead of a CPM, you still won't be able to tell at home if your baby is being deprived of oxygen, you won't have an operating room if it becomes urgently needed, and you won't have a neonatal resuscitation team with all of the equipment that might be needed to save your baby.

More excellent articles that explain the disparity between US home birth midwives and US hospital midwives and the home birth midwives in other countries can be found here:

The hypothetical situations you can imagine when you think about home birth midwives' lack of education and regulation - like, "If I have an emergency during labor at home, will my midwife know what to do? Will she have the skills and training to save my baby?" - clearly actually happen at home, as we can see from the numbers. With home birth midwives, three times as many babies die. With home birth midwives, seventeen times as many babies have brain injuries. These are the numbers that result from the faulty regulation and extremely low educational requirements required of US home birth midwives.