A midwife is a healthcare provider who is trained to provide obstetric and gynecological services, including primary care, prenatal and obstetric care, and routine gynecological care like annual exams and contraception. They’re an expert in uncomplicated Ob/Gyn care.
Midwives are healthcare providers who deal with pregnancy, childbirth, newborn care and postpartum health. Some midwives provide routine reproductive care like pelvic exams, Pap tests, or counseling on birth control. Midwives tend to be more holistic and supportive of natural approaches to pregnancy and birth. People often choose a midwife when they know they want a nonmedicated birth or want to give birth at home.
Midwives are usually not physicians. They often work alongside obstetricians and gynecologists (Ob/Gyns) in a hospital to ensure you have access to any care you need. A midwife is recommended when your pregnancy is low-risk or if you have only mild complications.
Pregnancy and labor are very personal experiences. You have a choice about the kind of care you’d prefer. That’s why it may help to know the differences between midwives and Ob/Gyns.
It depends on their credentials, certifications, schooling and where they practice. Certified midwives and certified nurse midwives can offer the most services. Midwives who aren’t certified offer fewer services.
Some of the health services a midwife may provide include:
A certified nurse midwife can practice at hospitals, clinics, birth centers or your home. Midwives who are not certified are limited in where they can practice. It’s best to ask your midwife what credentials they have and ask your hospital or birth center what the regulations are for midwife care.
There are a few different types of midwives:
Most midwives aren’t doctors. Some earn doctorates in nursing practice.
Ob/Gyns and midwives differ in their schooling and approach to care.
Midwives are highly supportive and take a more natural approach to pregnancy and childbirth. They view pregnancy and birth as a natural process instead of a condition that needs managed. They tend to be more open to nontraditional approaches to labor and delivery. People may want a midwife for a more relaxed birthing experience.
Midwives didn’t attend medical school and can’t provide all of the same services as an Ob/Gyn. They can’t treat high-risk pregnancies or complications during delivery. Obstetricians can manage complications using medical or surgical interventions that aren’t available to midwives.
That’s not to say Ob/Gyns won’t offer supportive and personalized care or be open to alternative approaches to your care. If you are unsure, you should meet with both providers to see who fits your personality and your desires for pregnancy and delivery.
It’s a personal preference. Some people prefer midwives, and others prefer Ob/Gyns. A midwife is typically only recommended for low-risk pregnancies. Most pregnancies in the United States are low-risk. Some advantages of using a midwife are:
Midwives typically are not trained to perform surgeries. Midwives will refer people to Ob/Gyns if their pregnancy or birthing experience becomes complicated or high-risk.
A midwife might be for you if you have a low-risk, routine pregnancy and if you desire a more personalized relationship with your provider. If you have a health condition that could complicate your pregnancy or delivery, close collaboration between your midwife and obstetrician is ideal. Some of these conditions include:
If you decide to use a midwife, we recommend finding one who’s licensed and certified to practice in your state.
Midwives consult with Ob/Gyns, maternal-fetal medicine specialists and other healthcare providers to mitigate risk in your care. Working with a midwife who attends births in a hospital setting is usually recommended if you are worried about delivery. This can give you the safety net you’re looking for if a complication arises.
The word doula means “female helper” in Greek. A doula is a person who has training in the support of labor and birth. They can help you manage contractions, get you ice water to sip on, suggest new labor positions and act as your cheerleader. They have no medical training. The care they provide is emotional and informational, not medical.
Midwives can’t perform c-sections, but they can assist in them. If you require a c-section, a collaborating physician will be called on to assume care.
Some midwives can prescribe epidurals, but midwives can’t give epidurals. They consult with an anesthesiologist or a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). Anesthesia providers are typically available in hospital settings only.
A lot of people interview potential midwives to make sure they feel comfortable with them prior to beginning services. Some questions you should consider before choosing a midwife are:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Midwives can be a great addition to your reproductive care team, especially during pregnancy and childbirth. They are ideal for low-risk pregnancies and births or when you’re looking for a more natural approach to your care. Not all midwives are the same. When looking for a midwife, check their certifications and what settings they’re licensed to practice in. Be sure that they have healthy relationships with a physician partner. Whether you decide to use a midwife, Ob/Gyn or a combination of both, your healthcare providers will work together to help you achieve the best possible outcome.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/05/2022.
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