Midwives are trained health professionals who assist women in childbirth. Many experienced midwives are also registered nurses, nurse practitioners or hold doctoral degrees, and the benefits of using one during a low-risk pregnancy and delivery are well documented. However, in the United States today, 98% of births occur in a hospital under the supervision of a physician. For the small percentage of women who give birth sans doctor, midwives not only take a hands-on approach to delivery, but they also take an active role in postpartum care.
Immediately after birth
One unique advantage to midwife-led care is that patients receive support and counsel before, during, and after delivery. Following an OBGYN-assisted labor, it’s the nurses who initially coax the baby to feed and tend to a new mother’s wounds. After a midwife-led labor, it’s the midwife who fills this role. Midwives also make house calls to check in on mom and baby. In some cases, they’ll swing by as soon as 24 hours after the birth, and patients can expect plenty home visits in the weeks following delivery.
Six weeks after birth
A postpartum checkup occurs six weeks after a routine vaginal delivery. During that appointment, both midwife and/or doctor examines their patient to ensure the uterus is returning to its previous size, there’s no increase in bleeding, and no pain in the abdomen, perineum, or breasts. Also on the table: the mother’s emotional well-being, birth control options, and having sex again for the first time since giving birth At the six-week appointment, most patients schedule an annual with their doctor for the following year, putting them back on track to see them every 12 months. The same schedule can be adapted for continuing midwifery care.
A year or more after birth
Past postpartum, patients need not sever ties with their midwife. For women in good health, a nurse-midwife (meaning a midwife that also has certified nurse credentials) can provide excellent routine care. According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, “Midwifery education programs leading to the certified nurse-midwife and certified midwife credentials involve graduate education.” Meaning, many can write prescriptions, take blood, perform pap smears, order lab tests, perform breast exams, insert and remove IUDs, and much more. Midwifery care even extends to women who have never been pregnant, or never intend to get pregnant.
The medicalization of childbirth and women’s wellness is not a new phenomenon in the United States. In the early 1900s, the medical community launched a successful campaign to discredit midwives in an attempt to move birth from the home to the hospital. For some, the word “midwife” conjures up an image of a hippie burning sage and catching babies. But for women who are looking for a more holistic, less clinical approach to birth and health care, ditching the doctor and using a midwife may satisfy that itch for a more personal experience.