New Campaign Dispels Myths About Midwives

When I first became pregnant some 9 years ago I had no idea that midwives were an option, let alone that midwifery care was covered by my insurance. I knew midwives existed in the world because my family is English and Australian and midwives are often the primary support for expecting and laboring mothers in those countries. Somehow I knew I was pro-midwife. In Women’s Studies classes I learned that during the Darker Ages midwives had been burned at the stake for their expertise, and that things got worse for mothers and babies when men (“barber surgeons”) took over. But I didn’t connect these stories to the reality that I could literally hire a midwife in NYC who would take care of all my prenatal visits, labor and birth and beyond. This is precisely what I did when I became pregnant for the second time in 2007. My midwife was awesome.

Midwives have gained popularity in the US in recent years. According to a recent New York Times style piece, hiring a midwife is the thing to do for fashionable New Yorkers. But still, midwifery care is far from the norm in America. Lots of newly expectant parents are understandably confused about what midwives do exactly.

A new campaign from the American College of Nurse Midwives may clear up some of this confusion. A part of the campaign– “Our Moment of Truth”–is titled “Midwifery Myths Set Straight.” Here’s a look:

“The profession of midwifery has evolved with today’s modern health care system. But there are many myths about midwives in the United States based on centuries-old images or simple misunderstandings. You might be surprised to learn the truth about some of these common midwifery myths.”

TRUE OR FALSE?

Midwives have no formal education.

FALSE. Most midwives in the United States have a master’s 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% 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.

Midwives and physicians work together.

TRUE. CNMs and CMs work with all members of the health care 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 can 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 health care needs.

Midwives only focus on pregnancy and birth.

FALSE. Midwives have expert knowledge and skill in caring for women through pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. But they also do much more. CNMs and CMs provide health care services to women in all stages of life, from the teenage years through menopause, including general health check-ups, screenings and vaccinations; pregnancy, birth, and postpartum care; well woman gynecologic care; treatment of sexually transmitted infections; and prescribing medications, including all forms of pain control medications and birth control.

Midwives can prescribe medications and order tests.

TRUE. CNMs and CMs are licensed to prescribe a full range of substances, medications, and treatments, including pain control medications and birth control. They can also order needed medical tests within their scope of practice and consistent with state laws and practice guidelines.

Midwives cannot care for me if I have a chronic health condition or my pregnancy is considered high-risk.

FALSE. Midwives are able to provide different levels of care depending on a woman’s individual health needs. If you have a chronic health condition, a midwife still may be able to provide some or all of your direct care services. In other cases, a midwife may play a more of a supportive role and help you work with other health care providers to address your personal health care 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.

Midwives offer pain relief to women during labor.

TRUE. Midwives are leading experts in how to cope with labor pain. As a partner with you in your health care, 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 or movement during labor or try 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.

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% of births attended by midwives in the United States were in hospitals.

There’s much more to learn on the handy FAQ page at Midwife.org. You can also use this website to start a search for a midwife in your area.

Ceridwen Morris (CCE) is a childbirth educator and the co-author of the pregnancy and birth guide From The Hips. Follow her blogging on Facebook.

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