Choosing Between an OB/GYN and a Midwife

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As soon as you find out that you are pregnant a lot of questions come your way. Will you give birth in a hospital or at home? Will you opt for natural birth or an epidural? What kind of practitioner are you going to choose to deliver your baby? 

While obstetrician-gynecologists (OB/GYN) are still the most common caregivers for pregnant women, midwives are growing in popularity. Planning ahead and knowing what options are available is an important step in selecting a caregiver. Read on to learn the essential differences between OB/GYNs and midwives and what factors you should consider before you make your decision. 

Do OB/GYNs and Midwives Have the Same Amount of Education?

The first difference when comparing OB/GYNs and midwives is their medical training. OB/GYNs complete four years of medical school followed by four years of residency. The education plan for a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) is quite different. To become a Certified Nurse Midwife, it is necessary to become a nurse, and then successfully complete a graduate program in midwifery. Most CNMs have experience working with moms and babies before attending graduate school. The final step is to pass a national certification exam. 

Both types of practitioners are fully trained and capable of delivering your baby. However, nurse midwives cannot provide all the services that a doctor can.

What Services Can OB/GYNs and Midwives Provide?

Both OB/GYNs and nurse midwives offer family planning, full spectrum pre-conceptual care, delivery and postpartum care. Additionally, both practitioners also offer gynecological care including screening and treatment of sexually-transmitted infections. During pregnancy, midwives care for women who are low risk, while physicians provide care for both low and high-risk pregnancies. To determine if your pregnancy is considered high-risk, your first visit to our office will include a thorough medical history and exam.

What to Expect with a Midwife

Many women choose a midwife over a doctor because they want additional emotional support before, during and after delivery. A midwife will get to know you, your family and your preferences over the course of your pregnancy. Because midwives are actively involved in the preparation of the delivery, you may be more relaxed and comfortable when your due date finally arrives.

Myth Buster: Midwives Do Not Administer Pain Medications

While many midwives are advocates for natural childbirth, a common myth is that they will not give a woman pain medications during labor. Midwives can indeed prescribe medications and provide an epidural for pain relief if that is your preference during labor.

Complications During Labor: What Now?

All nurse-midwives are trained to recognize problems that might occur during pregnancy and delivery. If, during your labor, you become high-risk or emergency surgery is necessary, they will call in an OB/GYN as backup. Your midwife can still stay by your side and assist with the delivery, whether it is vaginal or cesarean, providing support along the way.

What to Expect with an OB/GYN

If you decide to have a doctor deliver your baby you’ll experience a more routine approach. You’ll typically have an appointment with your selected OB/GYN every three to four weeks in the first trimester and as your pregnancy advances you’ll begin weekly visits.

Delivery Day with Your OB/GYN

On the delivery day, a nurse midwife is typically with you during much of your labor. Doctors in hospitals, on the other hand, may have more than one patient and will be unable to devote their full time to a single individual. They will however still check in on all of their patients often to ensure they are present if and when needed. Nurses will also be with you, constantly monitoring you and your infant’s progress and health.

Decision Time: Will You Choose an OB/GYN or a Nurse Midwife?

When you are deciding which caregiver to trust with the miracle of life, it is important for you to be educated on your options, talk to family members and friends, consult with an OB/GYN and a midwife, as well as your primary care provider. Be prepared to ask questions during appointments. And finally, pay attention to what YOU want. Here are a handful of questions to take into consideration:

  • With which caregiver will you be more comfortable?
  • Is your pregnancy normal or high-risk?
  • What kind of experience and in what setting do you wish to give birth?

In the end, it is important to choose a provider you’ll be completely comfortable with, who can provide for your specific needs, and who will respect you and your family. At UnityPoint Health, it is our mission to provide the highest quality care for the development of your baby. Learn more about our range of health care options for women including OB/GYN and nurse midwife services today!