CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Police charged two women with practicing midwifery without a license after a newborn died following a home birth last week in southwest Charlotte.

Just before 8 p.m. Dec. 16, police and paramedics were called to a home on Seamill Road, in a neighborhood near the Catawba River. They discovered the newborn unresponsive.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said it appeared complications had occurred after the baby's mother participated in a water birth - a method of giving birth in a tub of warm water.
Paramedics performed CPR and then transported the baby to Carolinas Medical Center, but the infant soon died.

Homicide detectives, who respond to all infant deaths, said they began investigating and determined that two women were in the home at the time of the birth. Police said they were practicing midwifery but did not have the proper license required by state law.

Police arrested Mary Stewart Barhite, 43, of Charlotte, and Jacqueline Lynn Proffit, 45, of Indian Trail, on Friday. They are charged with practicing midwifery without a license - a misdemeanor.

Police have not identified the baby or its parents.

N.C. law requires midwives to be registered nurses who complete midwifery education and pass a certification exam. They must also be supervised by doctors, who can step in to assist in complicated deliveries.

Supporters say water birth is a safe and less stressful way to give birth. But the American Pregnancy Association notes the possibility that the baby could breath in water if it becomes stressed in the birth canal or if the umbilical cord becomes twisted. Problems might also arise if the umbilical cord snaps as the baby is brought to the water's surface.

Some mothers who participate in water births choose to remain in the water as the child is delivered while others get out just before the baby is born, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Barhite and Proffit were released after posting $1,000 bond each. Neither woman could be reached by the Observer on Friday night.

On Proffit's Facebook page, she lists Midwifery Today magazine as one of her interests.

Midwifery sparked controversy in North Carolina earlier this year. In March, supporters of home births and midwives planned a rally in Raleigh to protest the arrest of longtime midwife Emily Amy Medwin. She was charged with practicing midwifery unlawfully after the stillbirth of a child in January in Rowan County. Medwin was licensed in Virginia.

Advocates for home births and midwives have pushed for a law that would allow midwives to deliver babies at home, but some medical professionals, who cite concerns about safety and the need for supervision, are opposed to such a change.

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