For as long as women have given birth, other women have stood by their sides, helping them through pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. This sacred process of bringing life into the world is one that eventually expanded to include fathers, male friends, and others not traditionally involved in pregnancy and birth beyond conception.
Over time, with the evolution of social, political, and economic culture, the circle of support for mothers expanded even wider to include nurses, doctors, specialists, and even machines—machines that bring modern-day technology to an age-old rite of passage.
For many women, this transition to a birthing process guided by machines, medicines, and homologized care is unappealing if not disquieting. For this precious moment of bringing life into the world, they long for natural, intimate, and tailored care.
Midwives are educated, trained, and certified professionals who provide customized medical and supportive care to women and their families throughout the childbearing process. Much like OBGYNs, they perform medical tasks, provide gynecological care, monitor pregnancies, assist with deliveries, and care for mothers and children postpartum. Given this, what makes them different from OBGYNs?
The obvious answer is that midwives and OBGYNs pursue distinct education, training, and certification. Indeed, OBGYNs are trained and certified to administer certain procedures and medications that midwives are not, and their education and training is much broader, extending to include in-depth study of the birthing process, reproduction systems and organs, pharmacology, surgery, and beyond. Midwives, meanwhile, focus primarily on developing their pre-partum, birthing, and postpartum knowledge and skills.
But there are other differences between midwives and OBGYNs—ones that make midwives particularly special.
Midwives work one-on-one with women, children, and families to provide highly tailored counseling, guidance, support, and care. They dedicate themselves to identifying and discussing the cultural, personal, and spiritual goals and needs of their clients, and they develop plans that help women and their loved ones have the birthing experience they want. While midwives certainly cannot take away the challenges of giving birth, they do work diligently to make the birthing process peaceful, joyful, and healthy for mother, child, and loved ones. Most of all, they do so by giving intimate, attentive, and customized medical and supportive care to their clients.
Another unique characteristic of midwives is that they support women dedicated to natural pregnancies and birthing processes. They emphasize organic and holistic care and preparation, and they limit procedures and medications to those most wanted and needed by mothers. While they’re knowledgeable of modern technologies and procedures, they emphasize non-intrusive care whenever possible.
Yet despite their commitment to natural and holistic care, they pay close attention to mothers and babies’ needs and refer women to OBGYNs when appropriate. Their devotion is to healthy and happy mothers and babies, and in the case of complicated or high-risk pregnancies or births, they ensure mothers and babies get the specialized care they need. In some cases, midwives work closely with OBGYNs to provide women with advice, advocacy, and partnership while OBGYNs provide them with primary medical care. In this way, midwives empower, support, and deeply care for mothers while also helping them get specialized medical attention.
Midwife care also offers financial incentive to women. Because midwives emphasize natural, non-intrusive, holistic care, they may also help reduce the cost of the birthing process. In a New York Times article, the “American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World”, a Truven Health Analytics’ analysis demonstrated that the cost of giving birth in the U.S. has tripled since 1996[i]. Citing Gerard Anderson, an economist at the John Hopkins School of Public Health, the same articles states that women in the U.S. pay individually for each service they receive and pay more for each service. And Katy Kozhimannil, a professor at the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health states that “American women with normal pregnancies tend to get more of everything, necessary or not, from blood tests to ultrasound scans[i].” Midwife care can help women with normal pregnancies avoid extra costs by limiting tests, procedures, and care to those which are necessary or critical.
Ultimately, midwives provide customized, holistic care to women without jeopardizing mother’s or baby’s health. They work closely with OBGYNs when necessary, and they often help families save money throughout the birthing process. Additionally, they do their work within the context of the “Midwives Model of Care™”, a model developed by the Midwifery Task Force with the Midwives Alliance North America (MANA). It’s based on decades of research from social scientists who are experts in women’s health, reproduction, and maternity care[ii]. Its content helps distinguish midwives from doctors and gives you a sense of how special midwives are.