Note: this article has been updated by Reb Huggins, CNM since originally written by Jabke Buesseler, CNM (now retired) in September, 2010.

Most people know that midwives have something to do with delivering babies, but after that things get much fuzzier for many people. When I meet new people and tell them I’m a midwife, a question I often get is: “So, do you deliver babies at home?” While there are certainly some midwives who do attend home births, by far the majority of today’s midwives practice in the clinic and hospital setting, much like doctors.  Women who are generally healthy and have normal pregnancies are cared for by Certified Nurse Midwives. Nurse Midwives and OB/GYN physicians frequently work in collaboration for women who have health issues or some complications during pregnancy, while more high risk patients are cared for by physicians.

What is a midwife?

Part of the confusion about the role of midwives comes from fact that there are different types of midwives. Some are referred to as “direct entry midwives” who typically provide care in the home, in birthing centers and in clinics. The majority of midwives in today’s medical practices, however, are Certified Nurse Midwives. These are registered nurses who have obtained a Masters or Doctoral degree in Midwifery. In Oregon, they are licensed both as Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners. They have a solid nursing and medical foundation, caring for women during pregnancy and childbirth and providing gynecological care throughout their lives. Many women don’t know they can also see their midwife for their routine annual exams, including pap smears, contraception, STI prevention and treatment, vaginal/bladder/breast health concerns, fertility support and menopausal management.

What sets midwifery care apart during pregnancy is our focus on wellness and the woman herself as she journeys through childbearing. The word “midwife” literally means “with woman.” This emphasis is visible to our patients in the way we care for them. Midwives spend much time educating our patients about ways to stay healthy during pregnancy and take an active role in preparing the new mother for labor and caring for her newborn.

We strive to be present for the intense part of labor and provide active labor support. Some of our patients choose to use pain medications during labor and some do not. Either way, we work hard to help each patient have the kind of birth they envision, the goal being to facilitate a safe birth for both mother and baby with the least amount of medical intervention.

While midwives are experts in supporting and facilitating the normal process of childbirth, most Certified Nurse Midwives attend births in the hospital setting. There we have many tools at our disposal, such as birth balls, Jacuzzi tubs and telemetry monitoring that allows for free movement of the mother (walking the halls, using the rocking chair, moving out of bed, etc.), and we are not afraid to use these tools to enhance the comfort of our patients.

Many Certified Nurse Midwives are in practice with OB/GYN physicians. At Women’s Healthcare Associates, we are very fortunate to have an excellent team of OB/GYN physicians, perinatologists, and genetic counselors available for consultation during pregnancy and birth if the need arises.

Next time you encounter a midwife, you’ll have a better idea of what we actually do in today’s healthcare field and how our profession makes a positive difference for women. Find a Certified Nurse Midwife >