It goes without saying that prenatal care is important to the healthy growth and development of a baby. In fact, one of the very first things most women do when they suspect they may be pregnant is making an appointment with their gynecologist to get confirmation and set up prenatal care. For many women, this means they will make more appointments with that doctor, but, as I discovered at a recent lunch with a pregnant coworker, that isn’t always the case.

When Samantha found out for sure she was pregnant from her gynecologist, the first thing she did was start researching midwives. She had always known she wanted a midwife for her prenatal care and delivery, because of her desire for a non-medicated pregnancy and a labor experience with as little medical intervention as possible. This reminded me of the stories my grandmother told me of her homebirths attended by the local midwife. I know this is how women delivered their babies before the rise of birth in hospitals, but why are so many women returning to this style of prenatal care and birth? Are there really benefits to having a midwife as opposed to a doctor?

The concept of pregnancy and birth in the Western world has become highly medicalized. Rather than focusing on the humanity of birth focused on the natural power and capability of a woman, some feel the medical community dehumanizes the entire experience. Nature is replaced by technology, and the labor and delivery experience is brought into the hospital environment where it is often influenced by dangerous, largely unnecessary and extremely invasive medical intervention. Even women who have experienced an easy, complication-free pregnancy are suddenly turned into emergency situations and are pressured into labor stimulants, pain medications, and interventions that put mother and child at risk.

Those who do not prefer hospital births feel that midwife-attended births are focused on the human element. Medication is rarely administered, and medical interventions are avoided unless urgently necessary to protect the lives of mother and child. In these cases, the mother is generally transferred into the care of a hospital where she can receive the emergency care she needs. Low-risk births, however, are considered safest when they lack unnecessary medical intervention. To this end, many hospitals feature birth centers as opposed to traditional maternity wards. Within these centers, nurse midwives operate in close cooperation with nursing support and doctors to ensure that all mothers and babies who move through the center are given the highest level of care possible. This approach to birth puts the focus on the woman and her ability to control the process so she can enjoy the calmest, safest, and most satisfying birth experience possible.

Source: Wagner M. Fish can’t see water: the need to humanize birth. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Volume 75, Supplement 1, November 2001, pp S25-S37.