A midwife is a health care professional whose main role is to offer care throughout the childbearing process, with an emphasis on the health and well-being of mother, child, and family. This includes the stages from early pregnancy all the way through assisting with the first several weeks of postpartum care and initial breastfeeding. Some practitioners may also offer general reproductive care to women, such as annual gynecological exams and assistance with family planning, although this is not the primary aspect of a midwife. Midwives may consult with other health care providers such as an OB, or have a practice agreement to provide referrals in case of complications beyond their scope. They keep medical records throughout the pregnancy and delivery, and follow state laws for providing medical care.
Throughout the pregnancy, a midwife assists in determining a woman's individual health needs, both mental and physical. This can include suggestions related to diet, supplements, and exercise, as well as lifestyle changes and emotional support. A Certified Nurse-Midwife Practitioner can write prescriptions as well, if necessary.
Midwives also encourage women to follow their own instincts and educate themselves on options for their pregnancy and delivery. Midwifery supports a greater focus on the psychological aspects of the pregnancy and birthing process, considering mental wellness a significant factor in a successful pregnancy as well as physical wellness.
A midwife's training emphasizes the natural, biological process of birth as a normal event, and not as one of crisis management. Most midwives consider their place to be one of support rather than that of ringleader, letting the natural birthing process progress while using procedures that are minimally invasive. These methods can include encouraging the laboring mother to walk, adjust sitting positions, practice certain breathing exercises, and even eat and drink through her labor as needed.
Depending on state and licensing requirements, midwives can assist in a hospital setting, birthing center, or even a home birth. A certified nurse-midwife may be trained to use electronic fetal monitoring or pain medications if they feel it is necessary. However, other classifications of midwife may require a supervising doctor to use these techniques.
Midwives are trained to recognize any signs that labor or pregnancy are not going as they should, and also have training in newborn life support procedures, although they cannot perform a c-section. Most midwives will have a contingency plan that should be discussed well before term if this is a concern. If the labor does result in a hospital visit, a midwife will continue to assist and support throughout the process.