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What to Know if You’re Thinking of Choosing a Midwife for Your Baby’s Birth

By Sheri Matteo, CNM, Director of Midwifery Services

GREENBRAE, CA — For more than six years, Marin General Hospital has offered expectant women midwifery as a birthing option. As one of the only hospitals in both Marin and San Francisco counties to offer this service onsite 24/7, we want women to feel empowered to choose the type of delivery they prefer.

Our team of 10 Certified Nurse Midwives are supported by 20 collaborating Board Certified Obstetricians who are immediately available should an emergency develop.  

Midwives have become a popular birthing option at Marin General Hospital, with midwives attending most vaginal deliveries. Normal, low-risk births have been shown to have equally good outcomes for both mother and baby whether attended by a midwife or an OB/GYN.

Most expectant parents have specific ideas about the birthing experience when it comes time to deliver, preferring either traditional medicine or an alternative approach. With the midwife program at Marin General Hospital, women have the best of both worlds.

Because there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding midwifery, we wanted you to get the facts before deciding whether or not to choose a midwife for your baby’s birth.

Myth: Midwives don’t have the training that OB/GYNs do to deliver babies.

Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs), such as those on the team at Marin General Hospital, are medical professionals. They are licensed registered nurses, trained at accredited nursing schools who also have a both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing. In addition, all of our midwives are certified by the American College of Nurse Midwives, an organization that oversees certification of nurse midwives throughout the country. This certification must be renewed every five years.

Myth: A midwife and a doula are the same.

CNMs are medical professionals, trained to deliver babies. Doulas are non-medical professionals who provide physical and emotional support to laboring women but who do not play a clinical role. Our midwives welcome doulas, family members, or other support people whose presence at the birth has been requested by the mother.

Myth: A midwife means having natural childbirth with little or no access to pain medication.

Midwives are a good choice for women who prefer a natural labor and who believe allowing birth to happen in the most natural way is best for both moms and babies and for the future health of both. However, both the midwives and physicians work with each woman individually to honor her preferences regarding pain relief. Epidurals and other forms of pain relief, including nitrous oxide are available.

Myth: Midwives are typically only for home births.

Midwives are trained to assist with births in a home or hospital. Our midwives deliver at the Family Birth Center at Marin General Hospital and collaborate with the physicians, nurses, and other clinicians there.

Myth: If anything goes wrong, there won’t be a doctor around.

The Family Birth Center follows specific guidelines regarding when a midwife needs to consult, collaborate and/or co-manage, or transfer care to a physician. Both CNMs and OB/GYNs are available around-the-clock. In the event of a complication, CNMs are trained to help with medical decisions and work closely with a physician. If an emergency C-section is necessary, midwives are trained to assist the operating physician in the OR and typically stay involved with the mother’s care.

Myth: A vaginal birth after C-section is too complex for a midwife

Midwives at Marin General Hospital regularly assist with vaginal births after previous C-sections (VBAC). The team’s success rate for VBACs is three times higher than the national average.

A C-section is often a lifesaving intervention for both the mother and the baby, but should not be the norm for low-risk pregnant women. After concerns about the rising C-section rate in the country, the physician community is advocating that as much as possible should be done to let labor proceed without intervention. Studies show that women who use midwives are less likely to receive medical intervention.

Myth: Midwives are only needed if you are pregnant

Midwives do provide all prenatal care for a pregnant woman, but are also trained to care for her through her reproductive life and beyond. Midwives can prescribe certain medications including contraception, hormone replacement therapy, and antibiotics.

The Midwives of Marin who practice at Marin General Hospital are available through the Prima Medical Foundation. For additional information, call 1-415-842-5107.

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