When It Comes to Childbirth, What's the Difference Between a Midwife & an OB-GYN?

Dec 28, 2017 at 3:00 p.m. ET
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You might’ve heard the term “midwife” already. But what exactly is their role in childbirth, and how does it differ from a traditional OB-GYN?

“Midwives have a more holistic view of pregnancy, labor and childbirth compared to the traditional obstetrical medical model,” explained Risa Klein, a certified nurse midwife based in New York City. “Midwives see birth as a natural, normal process, not a disease or an illness. Midwives believe that a [person’s] body is designed to give birth barring a true medical problem for Mother or Baby.”

More: What No One Tells You About Having a Home Birth — But I Will

Because the work of midwives is heavily feminized, similar to other positions within the medical industry, unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about the crucial job midwives do. One misconception is that midwives aren’t medical professionals, when in reality, they require specific certifications. (Both midwives interviewed for this story, for instance, are certified.)

Klein also stressed that midwives provide emotional support to their patients, such as understanding warning signs of medical pregnancy challenges and knowing when it's best to call an additional specialist (like an obstetrician, perinatologist or other health provider) if the warning sign is severe enough. It’s not because other types of reproductive health professionals don’t, but it’s because midwifery encapsulates a more natural, conscious, maternal-focused practice.

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However, don’t confuse midwifes with doulas. According to Healthline, while the two require certifications, doulas stay by the pregnant person’s side, offering nonjudgmental bedside advice and coaching, while midwives perform more standard procedures. Midwives may perform “gynecological exams, provide prenatal care, administer pain medications, give labor-inducing drugs, monitor the fetus using electronic equipment, give an epidural, and perform an episiotomy and stitch tears.”

Certified nurse midwife at Atlanta Birth Care Kay Johnson told HelloFlo midwives work in different types of settings, while traditional OB-GYNs typically stick to the hospital environment. At the same time, you don’t need to choose between either provider; a midwife can easily work beside an OB-GYN.

“Some have small private practices within a[n] OBs office, some practice in a call group with doctors, taking shifts with the OBs, some do only well women care,” Johnson explained. “Midwives deliver in large and small hospital[s], birth centers and home births.”

More: The SheKnows Guide to Giving Birth

Additionally, Klein stressed midwives have the potential to better serve rural and poor populations because they do not work in traditional hospitals and their services can still be reimbursed by most major health insurance companies. Their services minimize the need to travel to and stay for long or overnight visits in a medical facility.

By Danielle Corcione

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