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When you discover you’re pregnant, finding the right care quickly becomes a priority. Whether you’re about to be a first-time mother or you’ve had kids before, it’s not unusual to wonder how (and where) you’ll find the right answers during this time in your life.

Both OB-GYNs and midwives give customized advice to help you understand what’s in store for you and your baby. But how do you know which one offers the kind of care you’re looking for?

Let’s dive into what pregnancy care and childbirth usually look like when you choose a certified nurse-midwife.

What do midwives do?

Most midwives in the United States are advance practice registered nurses who have earned a master’s or doctorate degree from an accredited nurse-midwifery program. To become a certified nurse-midwife (CNM), they must also pass the national midwifery certification board exam and hold state licensure.

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.

A common misconception is that midwives only care for pregnant women, but in fact, you can see a midwife through many stages of your life. Midwives are growing in popularity across the U.S. as more women turn to them for all aspects of women’s health care. In addition to pregnancy, birth and postpartum care, they also commonly provide annual exams, educational support, birth control, sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings and more.

What do midwives do during pregnancy?

Like OB-GYNs, midwives provide personalized pregnancy and delivery care that emphasizes your and your baby’s well-being.

With a midwife, you’ll be encouraged to play a primary role in directing your pregnancy and birth. 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.

It’s important to note that midwives only manage low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancies. For added peace of mind, you can find a midwife who works directly with larger care teams that include OB-GYNs and specialists. That way, your midwife can connect you with an OB-GYN or another specialist if there are any complications. Also, 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.

What will delivery day be like with a midwife?

You’ll generally have more options for how you’d like to give birth at a hospital or attached birth center, and your choices may include having a water birth or hypnobirthing. 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).

It’s a myth that midwives don’t have or aren’t willing to provide pain relief options. You’ll stay in control of your care during labor, and you can use an epidural or another anesthesia option (like nitrous oxide) if you prefer. 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.

How do I know if a midwife is right for my pregnancy care?

A midwife might be a better fit for your pregnancy care if:

  • 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

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 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.

In the end, whether you choose a midwife or decide that picking an OB-GYN for your pregnancy would be better for you, both are fully qualified to provide expert care on, and beyond, your journey to motherhood. Each is an excellent choice – it just comes down to choosing the best match for you.

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