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Certified Nurse-Midwives, Certified Midwives, and More

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What Do Midwives Do?

The main function of a midwife is to provide support and care to women during labor and delivery. However, midwives today don't just attend births -- they offer many types of gynecologic care. 

Midwives can:

  • Perform gynecological exams
  • Help with preconception planning
  • Provide prenatal care
  • Assist during labor and delivery
  • Offer guidance with breastfeeding and other newborn care issues
  • Help women who are going through menopause

Women have reported that they are more satisfied about their ability to make decisions about the birthing experience when they are assisted by a midwife as opposed to an obstetrician. Although midwives are trained to provide medical assistance when necessary, they prefer to avoid interventions, such as forceps and C-sections during delivery.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Midwife?

Midwives can help women have a more natural childbirth experience. They often offer more personalized care than medical doctors, which includes taking the time to talk to the mother-to-be about her concerns and needs.

Some research suggests that midwives lower the risk of infant mortality and reduce the need for C-sections and other interventions. One study showed that births attended by a midwife had a 19% lower infant death rate and a 31% lower risk of delivering a low-birth-weight baby. Another study showed that nurse-midwives had 4.8% fewer C-section rate than obstetricians and used fewer resources, such as forceps and vacuums for delivery. (The reductions in mortality and complications, however, may be because midwives generally handle very few high-risk deliveries.)

Are There Any Risks to Using a Midwife?

Some states do not allow midwives to administer pain medications or to provide certain medical interventions such as electronic fetal monitoring.

And if there is a problem with the newborn, the midwife can only administer basic life support. At a hospital, obstetricians, pediatricians, and neonatologists can step in to handle these issues if they arise.

Most midwife-assisted births take place in hospitals, but some women prefer to give birth at home. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not endorse home births, because complications can occur even in otherwise normal pregnancies, and women who give birth at home don't have access to doctors or specialized medical equipment.

Giving birth at home can be especially risky if you are pregnant with more than one baby, or if you have gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or other risk factors. If you do decide to give birth at home and your doctor and midwife agree to it, have a plan for how you will get to a hospital in case problems occur during the birth.

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