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Midwifery in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is not only famous for its tulips and windmills, its maternity
system is just as outstanding. The Dutch tradition of a free choice of place of
birth including home birth is quite unique in the western world.
This leaflet will provide you with lots of information about the Dutch maternity
and midwifery system, and touches upon some of the challenges we face.
Inhabitants 16,780,566 (November ´12, CBS)
Active midwives 2612, 27% work in a hospital (´11, Nivel)
Total Fertility Rate 1.80 (’10, CBS)
Maternal age at birth of 1st child 29.4 years average (´10, CBS)
Births 180,060 (´11, CBS) primips 45.1% (’08, PRN)
Home birth 23.4% (’08-’10, CBS) 29.4% (´05-´07, CBS)
Birth in primary care 32.8% (’08, PRN)
Referral during birth (1st → 2nd level) 32% (’07, PRN )
Induction of birth 15.5% (’08, PRN)
Caesarean section 15.4%, 74% in case of breech (´08, PRN)
Vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) 54% (’02-’03, NVOG)
Epidural pain relief (1st stage of birth) 11.3% (’08, PRN) 6.2% (’04, PRN)
Maternal mortality 8.1/100,000 live births (´08, PRN)
Perinatal mortality (22 wks – 1st wk) 9.1/1000 live births (’08, PRN)
Perinatal mortality (28 wks – 1st wk) 4.8/1000 live births (´08, PRN)
Women who start with breast feeding 75% (’10, TNO)
Women who breast feed 6 months pp 18% (exclusive BF ’10, TNO)
In the Netherlands, maternity care is organised in a so called primary, secondary
and tertiary care model. The primary care, for low-risk women, is formed by
midwives and GPs. GPs are responsible for only about 0.5% of all births, mainly
in rural areas with a low population density (’11, Nivel). The secondary care consists
of obstetricians and specialized ‘clinical’ midwives in general hospitals and the
tertiary care comprises obstetricians in academic hospitals.
Risk selection, a clear distribution of tasks and a close mutual co-operation
between these different strata forms the strength of the Dutch system.
The principle idea is that a healthy woman with a healthy pregnancy (low-risk) is
best taken care of by a midwife. This minimises her chances of receiving an
unnecessary intervention of any kind, gives her a high standard of care and is
furthermore very cost-effective.
The midwife guiding a woman through her pregnancy, birth and puerperium is
autonomous in her actions and decisions. Emphasis is placed on natural
processes, with intervention only occurring when a problem arises. In this case,
the midwife will consult or refer to an obstetrician.
Obstetric and Midwifery Manual
Since 1959 a comprehensive list of pre-existing, pregnancy- and perinatal-related
disorders has existed, in which:
A the care of a primary care midwife is considered sufficient
B an obstetrician should be consulted
C the care definitely has to be shifted to an obstetrician
D the natal care should be given in a hospital but can be supervised by a
primary care midwife
This manual, called the ‘VIL’, optimises the risk selection and referral and is
formulated in a dialogue between primary, secondary and tertiary care
professionals. It should be noted, however, that the manual is a guideline, and
health professionals have the option to make autonomous decisions.
A Previous miscarriages, previous premature birth (>33 weeks), cystitis.
B Anaemia, PIH, psychiatric illnesses, hepatitis C.
C Diabetes mellitus, previous CS (from the 37th week of pregnancy), >24 hours
of ruptured membranes, meconium-stained liquor, breech birth, multiple birth,
third or fourth degree tear.
D Previous PPH (>1L), previous retained placenta (manually removed).
The manual is currently being updated by midwives, GPs, obstetricians and
government authorities. The current version dates from 2003, and an update is
expected in 2013. Unfortunately, there is not an English translation of the
manual available. The Dutch version can be found here.
There are three academies for midwifery in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam (our
capital), Rotterdam and Maastricht. The first one also has a satellite in
Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. These academies are all part of
universities for applied sciences:
Midwifery Academy Amsterdam and Groningen
(Amsterdam university of applied sciences)
Midwifery Academy Maastricht
Midwifery Academy Rotterdam
(Rotterdam University of applied sciences)
The midwifery training is a four year fulltime
direct entry education which eventually leads
to a bachelors degree. The total study load is
240 ECTS and equals nearly 6800 hours of
Altogether, there are two years of theory, one year of primary care internships
and one year of secondary and tertiary care internships. The internships are
spread equally over these four years. Students are primarily trained to become
independent primary care midwives.
190 Students enrol each year nationwide. They have had an extensive assessment
which selects the best candidates. Around three times more candidates apply for
the course than places are available.
The tuition fee is set by the government and is €1735,- for Dutch students
for the year 2012-2013.
Students from abroad may be accepted when they are proficient in Dutch (NT2,
level 2) and after their diplomas have been assessed.
Since there are many Dutch midwifery students that need placements for their
training, it is difficult to arrange an internship for foreign student midwives. For
more information please contact the KNOV at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To maintain the strong autonomous position of Dutch midwives and the high
level of care for low-risk women, it is important that midwives are empowered by
being academically trained to a high standard. Attempts to bring the midwifery
training to degree level are still in progress.
Dutch midwives have not
been trained as nurses! A
Dutch nurse cannot work as
a midwife and vice versa.
A Dutch midwife who wants to continue her education has the following
Master of science in midwifery (University of Amsterdam)
European master of science in midwifery (Midwifery Academy Maastricht)
These two masters prepare midwives to work in the field of research and
Master physician assistant (HRO, Rotterdam)
Clinical midwife (UMC, Utrecht)
These two masters educate midwives to work in a hospital. They must have
employment in a hospital before they can enroll.
Teacher in midwifery, first degree (VU, Amsterdam)
Dutch midwifery research
Nearly 3% of all Dutch midwives have completed a master in midwifery science.
So far, twelve midwives have acquired a doctorate in midwifery science and
several midwives are working on their thesis.
Two academies, Amsterdam/Groningen and Maastricht, have already employed
a professor in midwifery. Eileen Hutton from Canada and Raymond de Vries
from The United States both strengthen the field of midwifery science in the
The Royal Dutch Organisation of Midwives, the KNOV, has initiated a special
Midwifery Science Board in 2011. It will stimulate evidence based midwifery by
providing talented midwives with a PhD scholarship and by supporting efforts to
bring the midwifery training to degree level.
If you are interested in midwifery science in the Netherlands, there are several
research initiatives that can provide you with more information:
Year index midwifery research 2011
Midwifery Research Network
Consortium for women’s health and reproductivity studies
Netherlands institute for health services research (NIVEL)
Nuffic, a Dutch institute for international cooperation in higher education,
recently launched a website for foreign students with lots of information.
Midwifery Science (Midwifery Academy Amsterdam and Groningen)
Studies in progress
Academic Collaborative Centre (Midwifery Academy Rotterdam)
Studies in progress
Midwifery Science (Midwifery Academy Maastricht)
Studies in progress
Registration as a midwife
After finishing her education, a Dutch midwife is obliged to register in a
nationwide register for health professionals before she can actually work as a
midwife. The cost for this registration is €80,-. Her title, ‘verloskundige’, is legally
This so called BIG-register is open to the public. A midwife needs to renew her
registration every five years. The most important requirement for on-going
registration is a minimum amount of hours spent working as a midwife (2080
hours in five years).
The KNOV, the Royal Dutch Organisation of
Midwives, has initiated a quality register for midwives
in 2006. Registration is not compulsory, but around
80% of all midwives have registered so far.
To maintain her registration, a midwife has to have a
portfolio showing a minimum of 200 hours of training
and additional education over a period of five years.
The KNOV has also initiated a register for midwives
who have advanced training and experience in external cephalic version of the
foetus (ECV). 75 Midwives have registered so far. To maintain her registration, a
midwife has to perform a minimum of ten ECV’s per year.
The quality of Dutch midwifery is also externally monitored by a government
authority, the Health Care Inspectorate.
Working in the Netherlands
Midwives from abroad who are interested in practicing midwifery in the
Netherlands should be able to communicate in Dutch (NT2, level 2). Their
diplomas will be required to be assessed by the ministry of health, this procedure
is free of charge but requires quite a lot of paperwork. Depending on
competencies and experience, it may be necessary to follow an additional course,
which gives an introduction into Dutch midwifery. The midwifery academy of
choice will offer the candidate a customized program.
If a midwife from abroad wants to work in the field of education, research or
management, it is not necessary to register with the ministry of health.
Some midwives from abroad create their own employment as a doula or as a
childbirth educator for expats.
If you are interested in a personal acquaintance with the Dutch midwifery
system, please contact the KNOV, email@example.com.
There are 519 primary care, independent midwifery practices in the Netherlands
(‘11, Nivel). Most primary care Dutch midwives work in group practices, often with
two or three colleagues. Together they provide care for hundreds of women each
year. They often have their own premises and offer prenatal clinics during the
week. Each practice has a midwife on call 24/7, with each midwife’s shift
normally lasting for 24 hours. During this shift, a midwife combines both
postnatal visits at home and natal care, at home or in hospital. If she cannot visit
one client in labour because she is assisting another client, she will call a colleague
from her own or a neighbouring practice to attend to her client.
5.4% of primary care Dutch midwives have a solo practice. Often they have an
agreement with a neighbouring practice to occasionally cover for them in order
to allow them to have some time off. To enable them to take holidays, they
usually won’t accept new clients for a certain period each year.
12% of all active midwives are locums. These are mostly midwives who have just
finished their education. 27% of all active midwives work in a hospital under the
supervision of an obstetrician. They are called clinical midwives.
Finances and insurances
Every midwifery practice has several contracts with different health care insurers.
Everybody in the Netherlands is obliged to insure oneself for standard care;
midwifery care is included. The standard insurance for an adult is partly received
through taxes. Additional to this the individual costs are around €1100,- plus an
income related contribution of up to €500 per year. Children are covered free of
charge until the age of eighteen.
There is a Dutch institute for health services research, Nivel, which
publishes a yearly report about Dutch midwives. Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Practices have a free choice in how to arrange antenatal care. Often they will see
their clients around ten to twelve times, each consultation lasting for 10 to 45
minutes. Some practices incorporate a home visit at around 35 weeks of
pregnancy, which is a recommendation from the government but comes without
financial compensation for now.
If care is only given for part of the pregnancy,
due, for example, to miscarriage, change of
midwife or referral to secondary care, only
that part of the pregnancy can be claimed
under the health insurance. There are fixed
prices for several durations of care.
The price for natal care is always the same, no
matter how long the birth takes or whether
the woman stays under the care of a midwife
or is referred to an obstetrician. Natal care
starts when the membranes rupture or if a
woman has contractions.
The financial compensation given for postnatal care is also always the same, no
matter whether the midwife visits the client only once or several times. A visit is
often scheduled every other day for seven or
eight days after birth and takes between
fifteen minutes and one hour to complete.
The midwife works closely together with a
maternity assistant during the postnatal
If a midwife works fulltime, within a year
she will take care of the antenatal, natal and
postnatal care for approximately 105
As an independent midwife, you need to have indemnity insurance. For about
€350 annually you are insured for claims up to €1,250,000. It is easy to get such
insurance, though you need an agency to arrange it for you. It is very rare to get
confronted with a claim, as Dutch judges are very reluctant on this matter.
Many midwives also choose to have invalidity insurance in case they are sick.
Independent midwives are obliged to contribute to a retirement fund for
midwives, which is quite a unique situation in the Netherlands.
There is an additional
budget for clients with
backgrounds. Whether the
midwife can claim this
extra amount (23%) is
based on the zip code of
Midwives obtain the
following amounts for
their given care (2012):
Antenatal € 441,92
Natal € 480,33
Postnatal € 266,85
Total: € 1189,09
These amounts are yearly
adjusted by the Dutch
Ultrasound scans and antenatal testing
Every low-risk woman is offered two ultrasound scans; one in the first term to
set a due date and one anomaly scan at twenty weeks. There needs to be a
medical indication to have additional ultrasound scans. The scans are sometimes
made by the midwife herself in her own practice, otherwise the woman is
referred to a primary care ultrasound centre.
If there is a higher risk for congenital anomalies, the twenty week anomaly scan is
performed in a hospital that has a specific license for antenatal testing.
Currently there is a lively debate about whether or not an extra scan around thirty
weeks would reduce perinatal morbidity and mortality by detecting intra uterine
growth retardation. Research is being done on this matter.
Each pregnant woman is informed about the combination test, which calculates
her risk of being pregnant with a Down’s, Edward’s or Patau’s syndrome baby.
Low-risk women (e.g. younger than 36 years in their 18th week of pregnancy)
have to pay for this test themselves. The cost is around €130,- and some
insurance companies will cover this. The screening is performed at the same
primary care centre where the low-risk pregnant woman goes for her ultrasound
scans. In cases of a result with a risk higher than 1:200, the client is subsequently
offered a chorionic villi sampling or an amniocentesis. These antenatal tests are
always performed in a hospital that has a specific licence for this purpose. The
costs are completely covered by the standard health insurance.
If the foetus suffers from a medical condition from which it will certainly die
during or shortly after birth, or if it will be seriously handicapped, the parents
have a choice to terminate the pregnancy until 24 weeks.
Choice of home or hospital birth
Low-risk women may choose whether to give birth at home or in a hospital
(outpatient clinic). This free choice for the place of birth is almost unique in the
(western) world and is an important pillar of the Dutch maternity system.
If a woman chooses a home birth, her primary care midwife will attend her birth,
aided by a maternity assistant. The insurance company usually provide a
maternity box, which contains bed protectors, maternity pads, gauze and
sterilizing alcohol amongst other necessities. The midwife will bring her own
equipment, which always includes a neonatal resuscitation set and oxygen. If
complications arise, the midwife will refer to an obstetrician or paediatrician.
Every hospital in the Netherlands accepts these referrals from primary care
midwives. A midwife will use an ambulance for transport in high risk situations.
On average this ambulance will reach the client in just ten minutes (’11,
The most common reason to refer a woman during birth is meconium stained
liquor (21.8% of all referrals), followed by slow progress during first stage of
labour (16.2%) and slow progress during second stage of labour (10.7%) (’08, PRN).
If a low-risk woman opts for an outpatient birth she has to pay the hospital
around € 325,-. Some health insurances will cover this expense. Her birth is
attended by the same primary care midwife that attended her pregnancy and
would give her natal care at home. The midwife is assisted by an (obstetric) nurse
who is employed by the hospital. Some hospitals employ maternity assistants for
this purpose. Usually, women will leave the hospital a couple of hours after birth.
Women who have an increased obstetrical risk give birth in hospital, without
extra costs to themselves. A secondary or tertiary care professional will attend
them during birth. This is either a clinical midwife, a general doctor or an
obstetrician in training. They will call upon an obstetrician if a serious
There has been an extensive cohort study about the safety of Dutch planned
home birth versus planned outpatient hospital birth, which included nearly
530,000 low-risk women. It was published in the BJOG.
Dutch midwives minimise the need for medicinal pain relief by offering honest
information during pregnancy and a high quality of continuous support during
Currently, there are pilots to implement gas and air pain relief, which could be
administered under the supervision of a primary care midwife. Since it is
necessary for health reasons to have an adequate system of ventilation, such pain
relief would only be available in a hospital or birth centre.
There are also pilots researching the use of sterile water injections to use as pain
relief in primary care, these could also be administered during a birth at home.
Medicinal pain relief is generally used in prolonged labour. When a woman is in
need of medicinal pain relief, an obstetrician is consulted. Depending on the
situation, a choice is made for minor pain relief or epidural analgesia.
In general there are three types of medicinal pain relief used in the Netherlands,
all of which are administered in hospital:
Epidural analgesia – This type of pain relief is always administered by an
anaesthesiologist. Sometimes this specialist will come to the delivery room, in
other hospitals the woman is brought to the operation complex. The Dutch
association of anaesthesiologists agreed on the 24/7 availability of epidural pain
relief for women in labour a few years ago. A woman who has an epidural is
always under the responsibility of an obstetrician.
Pethidine i.m. –An obstetrician can prescribe pethidine, sometimes combined
with sleeping medication. A nurse gives the woman the medicine and it depends
on the hospital protocol whether the primary care midwife will continue the care
immediately, after four hours, or that the woman gives birth under the
responsibility of the obstetrician.
Remifentanil PCA i.v. – This medication is given in a couple of Dutch
hospitals. There have been some incidents of maternal breathing problems and
that is the main reason that other hospitals don’t offer it at all or only offer it in a
research setting. When remifentanil is given, the responsibility for the delivery is
always shifted to an obstetrician.
During a home birth, the midwife is assisted by a maternity assistant,
‘kraamverzorgster’ in Dutch. She supports the mother during her labour, assists
the midwife at birth, takes care of the mother and her baby and tidies up the
For the eight days following the birth, she will attend to the care of the mother
and the newborn. She performs medical checks, supports breast feeding, gives
information, takes care of light household chores, prepares meals and takes care
of other children if necessary.
Obviously she is not only of great significance for the new parents and their
baby, but also for the midwife!
Every mother is entitled to 49 hours of this type of maternity care, 24 hours
being the legal minimum. The amount of hours is calculated individually,
depending on factors such as hospital stay, choice for breast feeding and health
The basic health insurance covers the expenses for the maternity assistant, apart
from €4,- per hour which the parents have to pay themselves. Sometimes the
health insurance will also cover these costs, if the parents have paid for additional
The maternity assistant has completed a vocational education and training for
three years. She is an employee at a maternity care organisation or she can be
Dutch working women have a minimum of sixteen weeks of maternity leave. A
woman can choose to start her leave at 34 or 36 weeks of her pregnancy, but not
later. She always has a minimum of ten weeks of maternity leave after birth. So if
she gives birth beyond her due date, she sometimes gets seventeen or even
eighteen weeks of paid leave.
If a woman is self-employed, the government will pay her a minimum wage for
sixteen weeks. Often, these women (many midwives!) have an invalidity
insurance which covers her income during maternity leave.
When a breastfeeding woman resumes work, she is entitled for nine months to
use up to a quarter of her working hours to nurse the baby or to extract breast
milk. The employer has to provide her with a separate room for this purpose or
has to allow her to visit her baby.
Fathers receive only two days leave, the day of birth excluded.
Registration of perinatal data
All maternity caregivers; midwives, GPs, obstetricians and paediatricians, register
their antenatal, natal and postnatal care and results. 96% of all births are
registered in this system (’08, PRN). The data are collected and analysed by the
PRN, the Dutch perinatal registration, which is a governmental institute.
If you want to obtain data about healthcare, midwifery and obstetrics in the
Netherlands, you can consult several organizations:
EuroStat (European Commission)
National Public Health Compass (Ministry of Health)
Netherlands institute for health services research (NIVEL)
The Health Council of the Netherlands
The Netherlands Perinatal Registry , email@example.com
StatLine (Central Bureau for Statistics)
There is currently an intensive and serious debate in the Netherlands about the
improvement of maternity care to further reduce perinatal mortality and
morbidity. In a global perspective the Netherlands has a low perinatal mortality
rate and it is still decreasing. A few years ago however statistics showed that it is
relatively high compared to other European countries.
Partly, this can be explained by the differences in the quality and content of
registration. An example is the Dutch registration of foetuses with a minimal
birth weight of 500 grams as perinatal deaths, compared to a minimum of 1000
grams in some other European countries. Furthermore, a relatively high maternal
age and smoking during pregnancy can partly explain the differences. As well as a
reluctance to actively support extremely premature neonates (22-24 weeks).
Extensive research of nearly 530,000 births in the Netherlands of low-risk
women shows no differences in perinatal morbidity and mortality between
planned home births and planned outpatient hospital births, both under the
supervision of a midwife.
Some believe in a concentration of hospital maternity facilities to improve
outcomes. Yet others oppose this because of the increased distance for clients to
specialised care. Another consequence of concentration of hospitals could be the
uneven distribution of specialists (obstetricians, anaesthesiologists and
paediatricians) in the country, which would in turn reduce the freedom of choice
Another debate has recently developed concerning the integration of primary and
secondary care. Referral rates are increasing and some have the opinion that the
dichotomy between midwives and obstetricians should be abandoned, whereas
others believe that this same dichotomy protects women against unnecessary
The overall challenge is to offer a high standard of maternity care (24/7) without
losing the benefits of unique characteristics, such as the freedom of choice
including homebirth and low medical intervention rates.
The June 2012 vision statement of the KNOV clearly shows its position in these
matters. An English version will soon be available.
The Netherlands is a country with a long history of autonomous, independent
midwifery. This makes it an ideal location for international organisations in this
ICM, the International Confederation of
Midwives, has its headquarters in The
Hague, our administrative capital.
EMA, the European Midwives
Association, is based at the KNOV in
Dutch midwives are actively involved in Safe
Motherhood through their charity
midwives4mothers (m4m). This organization helps
to reduce maternal and infant mortality by
empowering midwives in developing countries.
Over the last years, they have built an intense
collaboration with the midwifery association of
Sierra Leone (SLMA) through their twin2twin
project. 25 Dutch midwives were paired with 25 colleagues from Sierra Leone
and exchanged knowledge and experiences. This successful project will be
completed in 2012. Morocco will be the next country where m4m will initiate a
twin2twin project, starting in 2013. Stay informed by Twitter and Facebook.
Do you have any question?
Please contact the KNOV at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Myrte de Geus
Editor: Franka Cadée
First edition, KNOV, October 2012
This information leaflet is carefully composed and produced by the KNOV.
Every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct. The content of
this leaflet may only be reproduced or published with the prior written consent
of the KNOV. The KNOV assumes that the information in this leaflet will be
used correctly and under the sole responsibility of the user.
Royal Dutch Organisation of Midwives