When you discover you’re pregnant, finding the right care quickly becomes a priority for you and your growing baby. Whether you’re about to be a first-time mother or you’ve had kids before, this pregnancy is a whole new world and you need a steady guide.
From your first prenatal appointment to postpartum care, the person you trust with your care will be with you throughout your pregnancy journey. So, you want to work with someone who’s knowledgeable, experienced and compassionate.
While OB-GYNs are one option for pregnant women, many choose midwives – particularly certified nurse-midwives – to provide their pregnancy care. Could a midwife be the right choice for you?
To help you decide, let’s start by talking about what a midwife is. Then we can move on to the kind of care you can expect from a midwife during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum, and when choosing a midwife may make the most sense.
What is a midwife?
Thanks to popular TV shows like “Call the Midwife,” you probably already know that midwives can deliver babies. But they can do so much more.
A midwife is a highly-trained health professional and an expert in women’s health.
While midwives provide pregnancy, birth and postpartum care, they can also provide annual exams, educational support, birth control, sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings and more. This means you can see a midwife through many stages of your life. In fact, midwives are growing in popularity across the U.S. as more women turn to them for all aspects of women's health care.
There are three tiers of midwifery credentials: certified professional midwife (CPM), certified midwife (CM) and certified nurse-midwife (CNM).
In the United States, most midwives are CNMs. This means that they have earned a master’s or doctorate degree from an accredited nurse-midwifery program. Plus, they’ve passed the national midwifery certification board exam and hold state licensure.
At HealthPartners, all of our midwives are certified nurse-midwives.
What about OB-GYNs? What’s the difference?
Midwives and OB-GYNs are highly trained and experienced in providing pregnancy care and delivering babies. But there are a few things that set them apart, and one of the main differences between midwives and OB-GYNs are their birthing specialties.
OB-GYNs can handle complex and high-risk pregnancies and births. Midwives focus on low-risk pregnancies and births, and typically use a wellness approach with minimal intervention.
A well-known saying among midwife practitioners is “low tech, high touch.” That’s because many midwives rely on their extensive clinical experience and the relationships they form with expectant mothers to help determine how they manage your pregnancy and childbirth. In many places around the world, midwives, rather than doctors, are the most frequent birth attendant.
What does a midwife do during pregnancy?
Like OB-GYNs, midwives provide personalized pregnancy and delivery care that emphasizes your and your baby’s well-being. But when you choose a midwife, you’ll be encouraged to play a primary role in directing your pregnancy and birth.
Prenatal care with a midwife: Helping you prepare for what’s to come
As your pregnancy progresses, your midwife will provide medical care, as needed, plus holistic care that focuses on your mind and emotions. Many offer care, support and education in either individual or group settings, helping you learn more about what pregnancy and motherhood means.
Your midwife will also help you make your birth plan, which will include how you’d like to deliver your baby and how you’d like to manage pain.
Giving birth with a midwife: Guiding you through the birthing process
Some midwives perform low-risk deliveries at home, while most deliver at freestanding birth centers and hospital-based birth centers. But hospitals or a birth center attached to a hospital are always the safest places to deliver, whether it’s your first baby or your last.
Hospitals usually offer the most birthing options, too. This helps midwives and the rest of your care team give you the birthing experience you’re hoping for including a water birth or hypnobirthing.
When birth day arrives, your midwife will be by your side throughout your labor and delivery, often providing emotional as well as physical support. They’ll also coordinate your care across a team that could include nurses, other midwives or OB-GYNs, if needed.
When it comes to pain management options during labor and delivery, it’s a myth that midwives don’t have or aren’t willing to provide a range of options. If you’re giving birth at a hospital birth center, you can stay in control of your care and still use an epidural or another anesthesia option (like nitrous oxide). Midwives cannot, however, perform C-sections. If your birth calls for this or certain other procedures, your midwife will bring in an OB-GYN doctor to assist.
Postpartum care with a midwife: Supporting you through the recovery process
Having a baby is a big deal. It pushes your body to its limits, and pulls at your mind and emotions in every direction. So, just as important as maintaining your new baby’s check-up schedule, you need to keep up on your postpartum care too.
Within six weeks of giving birth, your midwife will want to see you and make sure you’re recovering well. Together you’ll decide if you need any additional follow-up visits over the next few weeks.
Is a midwife the right choice for your pregnancy care?
As you prepare for the arrival of your baby, you’ll be making a lot of big and small decisions. And one of the most important choices is who you’ll trust with your care. A midwife may be the right choice for you if your pregnancy is low-risk and if any of the following match your goals:
- You’d like to take a lead role in directing your pregnancy and delivery
- You’re interested in a water birth or hypnobirthing
- You’d prefer less medical aid during your labor and birth
How do you choose a midwife for pregnancy care?
The answer to that question will be different for every woman. In the end, whether you choose a midwife or decide on an OB-GYN, both are fully qualified to provide expert care on, and beyond, your journey to motherhood – it just comes down to choosing the best match for you.
That said, here are a few things to consider as you research midwives:
1. Look for a midwife who’s part of a larger care team
Remember, midwives manage low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancies. For added peace of mind, make sure your midwife works directly with larger care teams that include OB-GYNs and other specialists. That way, your midwife can connect you with an experienced specialist if you experience any pregnancy complications.
It’s also important to know who your midwife shares on-call duties with. Why? Because only your body will know when the time is right for baby to come.
That means it’s possible that one of your midwife’s team members will be on-call and help deliver your baby. So, knowing how large and who is on your midwife’s team can help you know what to expect.
2. Research the different types of midwives
As mentioned earlier, there are different levels of midwife certification. All levels of certification show that a midwife has the knowledge and training to perform their work. But many women prefer working with certified nurse-midwives who have achieved the highest level of certification.
All of our midwives are certified nurse-midwives. And our team of CNMs is one of the longest-standing midwife practices in the Twin Cities.
3. Think about your long-term health and well-being
Though many women meet their midwives for the first time during pregnancy, many decide to continue seeing them in the months and years afterward, too.
Like our OB-GYNs, our midwives offer ongoing advice and support during your postpartum recovery period, including help with breastfeeding. And they’ll be there to help you with the next phases of your life through ongoing care centered on your health and well-being.
So, think about the qualities you’d want in both a pregnancy specialist and a long-term care provider.
4. Call your insurance company
As with choosing any doctor or hospital, it’s a good idea to check what’s covered through your insurance before making your first appointment.
Ready to look for a midwife? We can help.
How do you find the right midwife for your pregnancy? We try to make it as easy as possible.
Through our doctor match tool, you’ll answer a few simple questions and we'll match you with midwives who fit your preferences. From there you can make an appointment with a midwife of your choice, or you can explore their individual profiles and reviews to help you choose.
Another way we make it easy for you to get quality, convenient care is by offering a range of appointment options including in-person and video visits for prenatal care.