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What Is a Nurse-Midwife and Should I Choose One?

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Thinking about having a baby? Wondering what your birthing options are? A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) may be the right choice for your maternity healthcare and beyond. The midwifery model of care is based on the principle of shared decision-making. This means you (as the patient) are the primary decision maker, and we, as CNMs, guide you through the process with evidenced-based education and support.

What is a nurse-midwife?

In cultures around the world, midwives have assisted women in childbirth for centuries, and traditional techniques have been passed down from generation to generation. Most “midwives” in the United States are certified nurse-midwives. CNMs are licensed, independent healthcare providers with the ability to prescribe medications. A graduate degree in nursing is required for entry into nurse-midwifery practice, and many CNMs have doctoral degrees. CNMs are required to pass a national certification exam administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board to receive the professional designation of Certified Nurse-Midwife.

What conditions can nurse-midwives treat?

As defined by the American College of Nurse-Midwives, CNMs provide care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period; sexual and reproductive health; gynecologic health; and family planning services, including preconception care. Midwives also provide primary care for people from adolescence throughout their lifespan. Nurse-midwives work closely with other medical professionals to provide the safest and most comprehensive care and always have the option of referral when necessary.

Why choose a nurse-midwife?

The midwifery model of care operates on the principle that childbirth is a natural process and, therefore, attracts many people who desire unmedicated/ low-intervention birth choices. Certified nurse-midwives are committed to excellent continuity of care throughout a patient’s pregnancy, birth and beyond through sharing information and resources to empower each patient to make informed decisions. CNMs often provide more time for office visits to allow for all questions and concerns to be addressed. We also tend to spend more time at the bedside during labor to clearly communicate to you and your family what is happening and the status of you and your baby, and we can provide hands-on labor support and encouragement. We are there as an advocate for your wishes, with a primary priority that you and your baby remain safe and healthy during the process and an additional goal that you are happy and satisfied with your birth experience.

Nurse-midwifery care is typically covered by most commercial insurance plans and Medicaid programs.

How do nurse-midwives support women in labor?

Nurse-midwives advocate for patient choice when it comes to labor and birth. We use evidence-based research to guide our clinical recommendations and always prioritize your safety and the safety of your unborn baby. Pain control options can vary based on the facility you are delivering, but nurse-midwives are supportive of patients choosing epidural and using nitrous or other pain medications when appropriate. Nurse-midwives have special training to support women through unmedicated birth and feel comfortable using alternative measures for people that desire to give birth without pain medications or epidural. Some examples of these alternative options include:

  • Guided relaxation
  • Movement and positioning during labor
  • Hydrotherapy and water births
  • Breathing techniques
  • Supportive messages and mantras
  • Massage
  • Use of a birthing stool, birth ball and peanut balls

They support ways to make the hospital your home away from home, including using battery powered candles, lights, scents, diffusing essential oils and your favorite music playlist.

How are nurse-midwives trained to handle emergencies?

Nurse-midwives are competent practitioners trained to recognize signs of emergency or abnormal findings, and they can take action in an emergency. If necessary, midwives based in a hospital will quickly call in the support of OB/GYNs, surgeons, anesthesiologists and a neonatal intensive care team. They strive to support each patient to have the best possible birthing experience and prioritize patient health and safety, leading to a good outcome for mom and baby.

Interested in choosing a nurse-midwife?

We are proud to be nurse-midwives and advocate for CHOICE—whether this is during your pregnancy journey or for other gynecologic health needs. The shared decision-making model of care is a SLAM DUNK for patient satisfaction.

If you live in the Gulf Coast region, schedule an appointment with a midwife at Ochsner’s Alternative Birthing Center or call 504-894-2881. To find a certified midwife in your area, search the American College of Nurse-Midwives database.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on May, 15 2019

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