Ten years ago, midwives delivered three percent of babies in the United States. Today, that number is up to 10 percent and is on the rise. Still, misconceptions about midwifery persist. To help clear up some of these misunderstandings, we've gathered seven of the most common misconceptions or misunderstandings we hear about when we talk to people about midwives:
1) Midwives have no formal education
FALSE. Certified Nurse Midwives in the United States have a master’s or doctorate degree and are required to pass a national certification exam. There are many different types of midwives, each holding different certifications based on their education and/or experience. Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) and certified midwives (CMs) attend approximately 93 percent of all midwife-attended births in the United States, and as of 2010 they are required to have a master’s degree in order to practice midwifery.
2) Midwives and physicians work together
TRUE. Midwives work with all members of the healthcare team, including physicians. Midwifery care fits well with the services provided by obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYNs), who are experts in high risk, medical complications and surgery. By working with OB/GYNs, midwives ensure that a specialist is available if a high-risk condition should arise. Likewise, many OB/GYN practices work with midwives who specialize in care for women through normal, healthy life events. In this way, all women can receive the right care for their individual healthcare needs.
3) Midwives only focus on pregnancy and birth
FALSE. Midwives have great expertise and skill in caring for women through pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. They also do much more. Midwives provide healthcare services to women in all stages of life, from the teenage years through menopause, including general health check-ups, screenings, vaccinations, well gynecologic care, treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and prescribing medications, including all forms of pain medications and birth control.
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4) Midwives can prescribe medications and order tests
TRUE. Midwives are licensed to prescribe a full range of substances, medications, and treatments, including pain control medications and birth control. They can also order necessary medical tests within their scope of practice and consistent with state laws and practice guidelines.
5) Midwives cannot care for me if I have a chronic health condition or my pregnancy is considered high-risk
FALSE. Midwives provide different levels of care depending on a woman’s individual health needs. If you have a chronic health condition, a midwife may still be able to provide some or all of your direct care services. In other cases, a midwife may play more of a supportive role and help you work with other healthcare providers to address your personal health challenges. In a high-risk pregnancy, a midwife can help you access resources to support your goals for childbirth, provide emotional support during challenging times, or work alongside specialists who are experts in your high-risk condition to ensure safe, healthy outcomes.
6) Midwives offer pain relief to women during labor
TRUE. Midwives are leading experts in methods to cope with labor pain. Your midwife will explain pain relief options and help you develop a birth plan that best fits your personal needs and desires. Whether you wish to use methods such as relaxation techniques, IV, epidural, or other medications, your midwife will work with you to help meet your desired approach to birth. At the same time, your midwife will provide you with information and resources about the different options and choices available if any changes to your birth plan become necessary or if you change your mind.
7) Midwives only attend births at home
FALSE. Midwives practice in many different settings, including hospitals, medical offices, free-standing birth centers, clinics, and/or private settings (such as your home). In fact, because many women who choose a midwife for their care wish to deliver their babies in a hospital, many hospitals in the United States offer an in-house midwifery service. And because midwives are dedicated to one-on-one care, many practice in more than one setting to help ensure that women have access to the range of services they need or desire and to allow for specific health considerations. In 2010, about 90 percent of births attended by midwives in the United States were in hospitals.
If you have more questions, or are interested in sitting down with a Nurse Midwife, you can find one by using our Find a Doctor tool.