LAFAYETTE — A spring 2012 semester start is on target for the state’s only midwife training program, pending final approval from the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners, the program’s coordinator said earlier this week.

The South Louisiana Community College program offers students the opportunity to become licensed midwives and earn an associate degree of applied science in midwifery.

Upon completion of the 30-month direct entry program, students can sit for the North American Registry of Midwives national exam for licensure, explained Sherri Daigle, a licensed midwife and SLCC midwifery program director.

Midwives assist women in the natural birthing process, but also provide prenatal care and support through the pregnancy. Daigle said the option is for women with low-risk pregnancies.

“You’re a counselor, a mentor, support person, nutrition educator and a friend,” said Daigle, who has been a midwife for 25 years.

Registration for the SLCC program is expected to open in late November with an enrollment cap of 15 students, Daigle said. “My goal is to have 50 trained midwives through the program in the first eight years,” she said.

There are nine licensed midwives in Louisiana, said Daigle, vice president of the Louisiana Midwives Association.

Last year, there were eight licensed midwives in the state, according to the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners. The state’s practicing midwives are concentrated in the Acadiana, Baton Rouge and greater New Orleans areas.

Lynette M. Elizalde-Robinson, clinical director of Gentle Choices, a birthing center in Lafayette, said her client base includes a large percentage of women from the northern and central parts of the state.

“They’re willing to drive the distance. They are sacrificing for a choice. This is what they want and they’re willing to do it,” said Elizalde-Robinson, president of the Louisiana Midwives Association. “If we could grow more midwives, we could have more midwives accessible to them.”

Of the 4.2 million births reported in the United States in 2008, one percent were “out-of-hospital births,” according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released in December. About 66 percent of those “out-of-hospital births” were at residences while 28 percent were at a freestanding birthing center, according to the data. Midwives attended 61 percent of the home births, and more than 80 percent of the home births were to non-Hispanic white women, according to the data.

The SLCC program is expected to draw students from across the South since no direct-entry certified midwifery program exists in the region. The closest training is offered at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, as part of its nursing program.

Few options to study midwifery in a program exist elsewhere in the United States, said Effie Michot, a Lafayette native who recently completed a midwifery program in Maine.

Michot needs a few more classes to qualify for a license to practice midwifery in Louisiana and plans to practice in the New Orleans area. She said she hopes the new program helps to debunk misconceptions that shroud midwifery.

“I think having a school down here will bring it more into the light and more into the mainstream public,” she said.

SLCC plans to seek accreditation from the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council, which sets standards and criteria for direct-entry midwifery programs. According to the council’s website, nine institutions in the United States offer accredited programs.