There are a number of options that you can choose from for health-related support before, during and after the birth of your child. Many women opt for the care of an obstetrician, a doctor specializing in pre- and post-natal care and surgery. Others opt for care under a midwife, a trained practitioner who is able to provide primary care for pregnancy and reproductive-related health. If in need of additional support, some women choose to have a doula present. A doula [pregnancy/giving-birth/doula-delivery-birth-plan-labor-delivery]provides non-medical physical and emotional support for pregnant women.
You may already have a good relationship with an obstetrician/gynecologist (also known as an OB/GYN) from regular reproductive health checkups for Pap tests or birth control. Though some doctors practice obstetrics or gynecology exclusively, most practice both specialties, so it’s likely that you can continue seeing your regular doctor once you are pregnant.
Many obstetricians work in private offices alone or with a group of physicians. You may also find them in clinics or hospitals, especially teaching hospitals. Obstetricians have extensive education and certification requirements as outlined by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Before receiving board certification, they must have graduated from an approved medical school and completed four years of residency training in obstetrics, gynecology, and other specialties.
Women may choose to carry their pregnancy under the watch of an OB/GYN if they’re already comfortable with their current doctor or if they’re experiencing a high-risk pregnancy with complications such as preeclampsia or placenta previa. The available medical equipment and specialized knowledge is an advantage in situations like these.
Midwives are health-care professionals that can provide routine checkups and health monitoring similar to what an obstetrician would do. Generally, midwifes take a more open approach regarding a woman’s birth plan. They’re able to provide information on different options and allow the woman to make an informed decision based on her individual wishes.
Midwives also complete extensive training and certification to be officially recognized in their profession. There are a few different types of midwives that require varying amounts of training:
- Certified nurse-midwives must hold at least a bachelor’s degree – usually a master’s, too – pass a national exam through the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), and receive a state license in order to practice. They’re trained as both nurses and midwives.
- Certified midwives are a relatively new specialty and thus may not be available in every state. They are college-educated in midwifery and certified by the ACNM.
- Certified professional midwives are independent midwifery practitioners with extensive knowledge and experience with out-of-hospital birth environments. They are certified by the North American Registry of Midwives.
- Direct-entry midwives may or may not hold college degrees. They may have additional hands-on experience through self-study, apprenticeship, or a midwifery education program.
Women who opt for midwife pre- and post-natal care may choose to have their birth in a hospital or work with a midwife at home or in a birthing center. Birthing centers are facilities meant to create a more home-like environment. They are generally staffed by nurse-midwives, midwives, or even obstetricians, with doulas assisting at the time of birth.
Many pregnant women decide to work with a midwife because of their wish to have a more natural, personal experience. The schedule of OB/GYNs in a hospital is typically full – this may mean less patient-doctor time. A midwife is able to take time with you to discuss your concerns and desires for your pregnancy and birth. Midwife services also typically cost less than obstetricians. However, midwives may not have as much specialized knowledge as doctors do. They are not recommended for high-risk pregnancies.