Much like modern health care, the role of the midwife has evolved greatly. But, there are many misconceptions about present-day midwives and their role. Many of these simple misunderstandings stem from centuries-old beliefs.

Where midwives practice

The most common misconception is that midwives only attend home births. The truth is certified midwives also practice in many different healthcare settings including hospitals, medical offices, free standing birth centers, clinics, and other private settings. Most hospitals in the United States offer in-house midwifery services. Many women who choose a midwife for their care opt to deliver their baby in a hospital. In fact, in 2012, 95 percent of births attended by midwives were in a hospital.

Midwives do more than deliver babies 

Midwives have expert knowledge and skill in caring for women throughout pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. But they do much more. Midwives can offer health services to women through all stages of life – from the teenage years until menopause. They provide general health check-ups, screenings, vaccinations, well-woman gynecologic care, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, pain control, and birth control.

Advanced training for midwives

Certified nurse-midwives and certified midwives hold master’s degrees and must pass national certification exams. Some also continue to advance their training, gaining the skills to be the surgical first assistant during Cesarean sections, perform circumcisions, and do ultrasound scans.

Midwives work with members of the care team, including nurses, physicians, physical therapists, and social service agencies. They also coordinate with obstetricians/gynecologists, the experts for high-risk pregnancies, complicated medical problems, and surgery. In these cases, midwives can work closely with experts and assure their patients that a specialist is available should a high-risk condition develop. The goal is to ensure that each woman receives the right care for her individual needs.

Midwives are experts in labor

Midwives are experts in helping women cope with labor. They can explain pain relief options and help women develop a birth plan that fits specific needs and desires. Whether it’s relaxation techniques or movement during labor, intravenous medication, nitrous oxide inhalation, or an epidural, the midwife’s goal is to support each woman’s approach to birth.

The most rewarding part of being a midwife is the honor and privilege to be with a woman during one of the most important moments of her life: the birth of her baby. I share in the excitement of hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, the journey through pregnancy, and the magic of childbirth. Every woman’s journey is unique, and it’s the duty of the midwife to guide her safely to her new role as a mother.

Learn more about the individualized services midwives provide at Newport Women’s Health.

Karolyn Zambrotta, CNM

Karolyn Zambrotta, CNM, is a board-certified nurse midwife. She received her MS degree in nursing from the University of Rhode Island, and has decades of experience, first as an obstetrics nurse and then as an advanced practice nurse midwife at hospitals in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.