What is a Midwife?


According to WebMD, a midwife is “a trained health professional who helps healthy women during labor, delivery, and after the birth of their babies.”

They can assist your birth at home or in the hospital, if you prefer it.

Women who choose midwives usually do so because they want a low intervention birth. This means that unlike doctors, midwives will not rush your labor — they will help you use your body to work through contractions and  speed up labor (without inducing you). They will also assist you in any way that they possibly can: emotionally and physically.

Besides being there on the day you deliver, they will also do the following:

  • Provide family planning and preconception care
  • Do prenatal exams and order tests
  • Watch your physical and psychological health
  • Advise you about diet, exercise, meds, and staying healthy
  • Educate and counsel you about pregnancy, childbirth, and newborn care
  • Offer postpartum care

Unlike doctors, who will most likely just pop in the room only when you are ready to push, midwives will be there the entire time. Most babies are delivered by midwives in Europe, notably in the UK, France, and the Netherlands.

Midwives can have different levels of training:

  • Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) are registered nurses who have graduated from an accredited nurse-midwifery education program and have passed a national exam. They can practice in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Certified midwives (CMs) are non-nurse midwives who have a bachelor’s degree or higher in a health field, have completed an accredited midwifery education program, and have passed a national exam. Only a few states permit CMs to practice.
  • Certified professional midwives (CPMs) are non-nurse midwives who have training and clinical experience in childbirth, including childbirth outside of the hospital, and have passed a national exam. Not all states permit CPMs to practice.

My decision to deliver with midwives was one that I made late in my pregnancy (30 weeks pregnant!) when I realized that my ob/gyn practice wasn’t a good fit. Not liking one of the four obstetricians was a game changer: I wasn’t willing to risk having him deliver my baby. I am so glad my husband was extremely supportive and helped me make the decision to switch practices.

My advice is to educate yourself early on. Check out your insurance benefits.  Insist on meeting with all of the obstetricians from your practice within the first few weeks of your pregnancy. Ask the right questions. Having a clear birth plan might help you decide if a midwife is right for you. Do you want a quiet, low stress environment? Do you want control of your body, time, and most of all, support from those around you? 

Again: every woman is different. Just be ready to make these important decisions early on to avoid the stress of a last minute switch.

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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