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What makes a midwife different from a doctor? Learn how a midwife can help before and during delivery.
Prepare for labor and delivery with our free childbirth class.
Narrator: One of the most important and personal decisions you'll make during pregnancy is choosing a healthcare provider for yourself and your baby.
Both midwives and obstetricians are trained to deliver babies, but they have different approaches when it comes to birth.
Midwife Karen Shields: My philosophy of birth is really going with the flow.
Narrator: Midwives usually work with low-risk pregnancies. They put special emphasis on the emotional well-being of the mother during labor and are less likely to use medical interventions during birth.
Obstetricians are medical doctors. In addition to helping with vaginal deliveries, they can do c-sections and special procedures if needed. Many women with high-risk pregnancies choose to see an obstetrician.
Mother: It's kind of unorthodox anymore to have labor without any medication or an epidural or any medical intervention.
Midwife: The women that choose to come to me for childbirth know that I'm an advocate of natural childbirth.
Narrator: Karen Shields has attended more than 2,000 births as a certified nurse-midwife running her own practice in Elmer, New Jersey.
Working with a midwife instead of an obstetrician can be an excellent alternative for women with a healthy, low-risk pregnancy – which is the vast majority of pregnant women.
Several studies suggest that if your pregnancy is low-risk, you're just as likely to have a good outcome with a qualified midwife as you are with an obstetrician.
Today, many women choose a midwife because:
- They're looking for emotional support during pregnancy and labor.
- They're interested in a more natural birth.
- They want to deliver at home or in water.
- They want to save money: Midwives typically cost less than doctors.
There are different types of midwives with various levels of training. Before choosing a midwife, you'll want to find out about her experience and certification.
Most midwives in the United States are certified nurse-midwives, or CNMs. A CNM is a registered nurse who's educated in midwifery and accredited by the American Midwifery Certification Board. She can practice anywhere in the United States and deliver babies in any setting, including a hospital.
There are several other types of midwives who aren't nurses. Some have as much training as CNMs while others don't, and their legal status varies from state to state.
Shields, a certified nurse-midwife, is a proponent of water birth. Most women interested in water birth choose a midwife instead of a doctor because midwives are generally more experienced in water birth.
Midwife: During the prenatal course we talk about ways to relax and cope with labor. I encourage them to do some reading and then bring questions to me and we talk about it.
Narrator: One reason many women like midwives is that their appointments generally don't feel rushed, and their midwife has time to answer their questions.
Midwife: Oh, you're great, you're fabulous.
Narrator: Mary's labor begins right on time, in week 40 of her pregnancy.
Midwife: So Mary's doing fabulously. She's in early stage of active labor. I'm not doing anything to speed it up at this point.
Narrator: Mary appreciates the encouragement and nurturing that her midwife offers during labor. It helps her feel strong and empowered for birth.
One misconception about midwives is that they don't offer pain medication during labor.
While it's true that midwives are likely to try non-medical approaches first, like massage or various birthing positions, they can also prescribe certain types of pain medication.
Women who deliver with a midwife in a hospital have the option of getting an epidural from an anesthesiologist.
Midwife: I'm just there to guide their labor and their delivery to make sure they are safe and their baby is safe.
Narrator: As for Mary, she was able to deliver her healthy baby girl naturally, in the water, in a hospital, with the expertise and care of her certified nurse-midwife.