What Is A Midwife?

Preparing to welcome a new baby into the family is an exciting time. To make sure you start your babies off right, start with good prenatal care by finding a skilled professional who can keep you and your baby safe and healthy during pregnancy, birth, and beyond.

Many parents-to-be look for midwives for prenatal care and to help them with birth. Midwives are medical professionals who are trained in pregnancy and childbirth. They are often women and have many years of training and experience in their job. 

Midwives are often supportive of parents who want a birth without any pain medicine or other interventions. Midwives may work outside of hospitals and do deliveries at birth centers instead. Some are willing to participate in home births.

Learn more about what midwives do and if a midwife is right for your pregnancy care. 

Types of Midwives

There are several different ways to get trained as a midwife. The various training programs come with different types of certifications. You can tell what kind of training a midwife has based on the kind of certification she lists for herself. 

Certified nurse midwives (CNM). CNMs have finished nursing school and are already practicing registered nurses (RN). They follow that training with a master's degree program in midwifery at a college or university. They must pass a professional certification exam from the American Midwifery Certification Board. Like nurse practitioners, they are authorized to practice without the supervision of a doctor. They can prescribe medication, and they provide lifelong healthcare as well as care during pregnancy and childbirth. They may legally practice in all 50 states and Washington DC.

Certified midwives (CM). CMs have a bachelor's degree in a science or health-related field but do not have a nursing license. They get the same post-graduate training as a CNM and take the same kind of certification exam. They can provide all the same types of care as CNMs including writing prescriptions. However, only Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island allow CMs to practice.

Certified professional midwives (CPM). CPMs don’t need to have a nursing degree or other healthcare experience before they start their midwifery training, though they are required to get training in CPR. Some learn midwifery by attending a midwifery training program. Others choose to do an apprenticeship with a more experienced midwife. They focus on learning skills related to pregnancy care and childbirth including non-hospital births. They cannot provide any other kind of health care, and they cannot prescribe medicine. They pass a certification exam from the North American Registry of Midwives. CPMs may legally practice in 27 states.


How Are Midwives Different Than Obstetricians?

Obstetricians or obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYN) are medical doctors. They finish medical school then get additional training in health care for pregnancy, childbirth, and reproductive health care.

OB/GYNs work in a typical medical office. They usually attend births in a hospital and provide interventions like pain relief, episiotomy, and cesarean sections when necessary. 

Like OB/GYNs, CMs and CNMs have extensive medical training and offer services like annual exams, cancer screenings, and contraception prescriptions. CPMs only assist with pregnancy and childbirth. 

CMs and CNMs often work at hospitals but some also practice in non-hospital settings. They may come to your house for prenatal visits. They also work at birth centers that offer prenatal care as well as childbirth. Birth centers often have a relationship with a nearby hospital just in case a patient has an emergency and needs to be transferred there. Most midwives train to attend home births, though not all midwives offer that service. 

During pregnancy, midwives emphasize spending time with expectant parents to discuss everything related to pregnancy and welcoming a baby. Midwives are usually supportive of birth plans that call for no pain relief or unnecessary interventions. They may work with doulas who support parents during labor or welcome a doula the parents choose to bring with them.

Is A Midwife Right For You?

If you hope to have an unmedicated birth or if you want to give birth somewhere other than a hospital, a midwife may be the ideal choice for your care. You should make appointments with midwives in your area to learn more about them. It's important to be comfortable with the person who will be helping you give birth. 

However, if you have certain pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes or if you are pregnant with multiples, you should discuss that with a midwife. You may need certain types of care that they can't provide. If that is the case, they can help you find a doctor who can give you the care you need. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 04, 2021



American College of Nurse-Midwives: "Definition of Midwifery and Scope of Practice of Certified Nurse Midwives and Certified Midwives," "FAQs for Prospective Midwifery Students."

Boston University: "What is a Midwife?"

David Geffen School of Medicine: "Obstetricians and gynecologists: What's the difference?"

North American Registry of Midwives: "How to Become a CPN."

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