Midwives Go Mainstream as Popularity Rises in US
Jul 19, 2021
Sutter Health

Phoebe Cahill delivered her two babies the way women have for hundreds of years: with a midwife by her side. She could have chosen an OB doctor but felt confident that a certified nurse-midwife could help her have a natural childbirth or call in a specialist if needed.

“If you’re low risk, I don’t see the difference, really,” she said. “I felt that I was in good hands regardless. I was confident and comfortable with having a midwife deliver my baby.”

An increasing number of women in the United States with low-risk pregnancies are choosing midwives to lead their care, with the hope of experiencing childbirth safely with as little medical intervention as needed.

Although midwifery is common in many other countries and cultures, it’s just starting to gain widespread popularity in the U.S., as more hospitals and OB/Gyn medical groups integrate nurse-midwives into their care teams. Certified nurse midwives have completed both nursing school and an advanced training graduate degree in midwifery. They’re also licensed to provide primary care and write prescriptions.

The midwifery model of care is a blend of art and science, viewing childbirth as a natural process that in most cases needs little medical intervention. But midwives also know when and how to escalate medical care if necessary. While specializing in all aspects of pregnancy care, in some practices midwives can take the lead in a woman’s overall healthcare, performing routine checkups such as pap smears and providing care throughout menopause.

A Team Effort

At many Sutter locations CNMs are an integrated part of the care team, and patients can choose a midwife or an OB to lead their obstetrical care. In Cahill’s case, the first available prenatal appointment was with CNM Kayla Cushner, and Cahill didn’t skip a beat.

“I knew if something high-risk happened, if I needed to have a cesarean or something was going on with the baby, they would absolutely call in an OB or a specialist. It’s a team effort and you can tell they value one another,” she said.

Cahill saw a variety of providers throughout the prenatal period, including an OB. This is a typical approach because a woman’s assigned provider may not be on call when she delivers.

Fortunately, CNM Kayla Cushner was on call the day Cahill delivered.

“My husband caught the baby. If the timing and situation is right and the midwife is right there to assist, they allow your partner or birth person to catch the baby,” Cahill said. “It’s empowering for the partner. To have that level of participation is pretty amazing.”

Cahill didn’t have pain medication during delivery, but choosing a midwife as a care provider for childbirth doesn’t necessarily mean foregoing pain medication and medical interventions. A midwife who practices as part of a care team at a hospital has access to the full range of medications and state-of-the-art treatments.

Delivery During COVID-19

Cahill’s daughter was born in April 2020, about one month into the Bay Area’s COVID-19 shelter-in-place order. With an abundance of COVID-19 safety precautions in place at Sutter Maternity & Surgery Center, she said she felt safe.

“Having given birth once before the pandemic and one time right in the middle, aside from not having more than one visitor and the nurses being in PPE and taking whatever COVID precautions they needed, I really felt like there was no difference in care. Everyone was so attentive and so wonderful. It was just a really positive experience, so similar to my first,” Cahill said.

Note: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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