What comes to mind when you hear the word “midwife”? Maybe you think of giving birth at home or the popular PBS drama series “Call the Midwife.” Did you know a midwife can provide many of the same services as an obstetrician/gynecologist, including delivering babies? In fact, 94% of certified nurse midwife-attended births occur in hospitals, making this a great option for women who prefer the type of care these health professionals provide.

Exploring what a midwife is and does can help a woman and her family decide whether a relationship with this type of healthcare provider is right for them. Pregnancy and childbirth are such beautifully important and intimate times in a woman’s life — and having the right provider by her side can make a big difference.

A matter of definition

So what exactly is a midwife? The simple answer is that a midwife is a trained professional who helps women during labor, delivery and postpartum. A certified nurse midwife is a registered nurse who also has a master’s degree and specialized training in women’s health issues, from adolescence and through menopause. While pregnancy, labor support and childbirth are a significant part of the care a nurse midwife provides, they are not the only services she or he (yes, men can be midwives) can offer. Other care a midwife provides includes primary care, such as annual wellness exams, writing prescriptions, ordering tests and lab work and providing contraception.

While much of the care a nurse midwife provides is similar to services offered by other healthcare providers, there tends to be a philosophical difference in how she or he approaches that care. Certified nurse midwives take a more naturalistic approach to care, honoring a woman’s normal life cycle and choosing watchful waiting and non-intervention. They celebrate disease prevention, health promotion and health education. A nurse midwife is less likely to intervene in a condition that is considered normal for convenience, instead relying on education, monitoring and shared decision-making.

Of course, midwives use interventions and technology if the situation demands, working closely with other members of a patient’s healthcare team whenever necessary to ensure the best possible outcomes. For example, if a laboring mother needs a C-section, an OB/GYN will perform the surgery, but her nurse midwife will often assist and continue to provide midwifery care in the operating room.

Is a midwife right for you?

Women who prefer a more physiologic and empowering approach to their healthcare may want to consider meeting with a certified nurse midwife — whether or not they are pregnant or would like to be in the future. Bellin Health Generations currently employs five nurse midwives, with several traveling to the Marinette campus to care for patients.

Women’s healthcare is deeply personal, and so is patients’ choice of a healthcare provider. Knowing more about what a certified nurse midwife is and does can help women and their families to make the right decision and form a positive, lasting healthcare relationship.

Molly B. Hohol is a certified Nurse Midwife at Bellin Health Marinette