Frontier Nurse-Midwives and Antepartum Emergencies, 1925 to 1939

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Abstract

This article examines how the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) utilized nurse-midwives to respond to antepartum emergencies such as preterm birth, eclampsia, malpresentation, and hemorrhage in the women of Appalachia in the years 1925 to 1939. Particular attention is given to the preparation that nurse-midwives received during their midwifery education to prevent and respond to emergencies. Using traditional historical research methods and primary source material from the FNS papers in the Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington, Kentucky, this article describes the nurse-midwives' experiences and how they implemented skills they had learned during their training in Great Britain. Working in the isolated mountainous area of Leslie County, Kentucky—for the most part without direct assistance from physicians—FNS nurse-midwives decreased maternal and neonatal mortality rates. During their first 2000 births, they had only 2 maternal deaths, whereas the national average maternal mortality rate was approximately 7 deaths per 1000 births. The nurse-midwives performed external cephalic versions on a routine basis. For pregnancy and birth emergencies, they administered sedation, gave general anesthesia, and performed invasive lifesaving techniques in order to protect the lives of the women in their care. During these 14 years, their cross-cultural engagement, assessment skills, clinical judgment, and timely interventions improved maternal and child health throughout the region.

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