Midwives: What they do and what you need to know

Midwives are healthcare providers who offer comprehensive care to childbearing women during pregnancy, labor, and birth. These providers not only provide care during this important time, but they can also provide reproductive healthcare all the way from puberty on through post-menopause. Midwives are also trained to serve as a primary care provider.

Why choose a midwife?

Midwives can provide much of the same care that an OB-GYN can, so why might you want to choose a midwife? One of the biggest differences between a midwife and an OB-GYN is a difference in philosophy - midwives view pregnancy and birth as natural life events rather than major medical events. Because of this, women with low-risk pregnancies who work with midwives often experience fewer medical interventions. Midwives are also able to provide continuity of care from prenatal appointments on through labor and delivery. And depending on the midwife, they may deliver babies in a variety of settings, from a hospital, to a birthing center, to a home.

Are there any limitations for care?

Midwives typically care for women with low risk pregnancies. If you do have medical conditions that might put you at risk for a high-risk pregnancy - such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, past complications with pregnancy, or any number of other conditions - you may still be able to work with a midwife. But if complications arise and it’s in your best interest, they may work along with or transfer your care to an OB-GYN as needed.

And while midwives believe that a woman’s body is capable of pregnancy, labor, and delivery without medical intervention, they are well-versed in options for intervention as wanted or needed. They can, for example, work with women using medical options for pain management during labor and delivery - such as epidurals. But they would transfer care to an OB-GYN in the event that complications arose and a C-section was needed.

What sort of training and certification does a midwife have?

There are several different kinds of midwives, and each kind has different training and credentials. Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) have at least a bachelor’s degree, have completed both nurse and midwifery training, and have passed certification exams. Many work with doctors and hospitals. A lay or direct-entry midwife has more informal training through either apprenticeship or a workshop, and they may not be regulated or allowed to practice in certain states. A certified midwife (CM) does not have a nursing background, but similar to a CNM, this type of midwife has graduated from a masters level midwifery program. A certified professional midwife (CPM) is certified by the North American Registry of Midwives after passing exams and skill evaluations. They require out of hospital birth experience and usually practice outside of hospitals.

Is a midwife right for you?

When choosing just who will care for you during your pregnancy, there’s a lot to consider, but talking to your current healthcare provider is always a great place to start. With them, you can discuss your unique health needs, concerns, and what sort of care is most important to you. And if you have a low-risk pregnancy, working with a midwife may be just the right choice.

Read more
  • "What is a CPM." NARM. North American Registry of Midwives, n.d. Web.
  • Lynne Himmelreich, CNM, MPH, FACNM. "The American College of Nurse-Midwives and ACOG: Partners in women’s health." ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, n.d. Web.
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