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Myths of Nurse-Midwifery

The word “midwife” comes from the Old English and means “with woman.” Midwives have helped women give birth since the beginning of time. Over the years, several myths about midwifery have surfaced and have created some preconceived notions about what utilizing a Certified Nurse-Midwife – or simply “nurse-midwife” – involves. This may be in part because people use the term “midwife” to refer to all types of midwives, not just nurse-midwives. The other types of midwife are Certified midwives and Certified Professional midwives. The focus of this article is nurse-midwives.

The myths and their truths below illustrate some common misconceptions.

Myth #1:

All midwives are the same.


In the United States, midwives are not all the same, and the requirements for certification have changed over the years. Again, there are 3 types of midwives:

  1. Certified Professional Midwives (CPM) have no degree requirement. They are certified through the North American Registry of Midwives. Certified professional midwives are “regulated” in 26 states by various methods through Departments of Health, Boards of Medicine and Boards of Midwifery.
  2. Certified Midwives (CM) must hold a Master’s degree and have graduated from a midwifery education program accredited by the Accreditation Committee for Midwifery Education (ACME) to be eligible to take the certification exam offered by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB). Certified midwives are currently legally authorized to practice in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island and hold prescriptive authority in New York.
  3. Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM) are registered nurses, with a minimum of a Master’s degree and have graduated from a nurse midwifery education program accredited by the ACME. They must pass a national certification exam offered by the AMCB to become licensed by the state in which they practice. Nurse-midwives are also licensed by their states and the federal government to provide prescription medications. Nurse-midwives are authorized to legally practice in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. About 11,000 certified nurse-midwives in the United States delivered more than 317,000 babies in 2006, a 33 percent increase over 1996, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Myth #2:

Midwives only deliver babies at home.


The majority of deliveries by certified nurse-midwives actually occur in a hospital. Certified midwives deliver in a variety of practice settings and Certified Professional midwives deliver babies only in an out-of-hospital setting. Atrius Health only has nurse midwives and all our midwifery-attended births occur in the hospital setting. Midwives believe that childbirth is a natural event, requiring medical intervention only in special circumstances. In a hospital environment, medical intervention is available in situations where it is needed. In addition, some nurse-midwives work in birthing centers which are affiliated with a hospital.

Myth #3:

Patients of a midwife cannot receive pain medication in labor.


When it comes to using pain medication during labor, the choice is that of the laboring woman, not the nurse-midwife. While midwives are skilled at supporting a drug-free approach to birth, they also respect the right of the woman to choose the pain relief method she desires. Nurse-midwives assist a woman through the physical and emotional changes experienced during labor and birth and help them create their own unique birth experience.

Myth #4:

Nurse-midwives only provide prenatal care and perform deliveries.


Nurse-midwives are licensed to provide prenatal care and perform deliveries, but also provide gynecological care from adolescence to menopause. Teaching women how to prevent disease and maintain good health throughout their lives are hallmarks of nurse-midwifery care. Nurse-midwives work in collaboration with physicians with whom they can consult in the event of a medical complication or need for surgery.

Don’t let the common misperceptions about nurse-midwives prevent you from learning more about the unique care they can provide women through all stages of life.

Atrius Health has one of the largest certified nurse-midwifery services in New England, with midwives working in collaboration with obstetricians and practicing at our offices in Chestnut Hill/West Roxbury, Dedham, Norwood, Quincy, Wellesley, and our Boston locations in Kenmore Square and Post Office Square. Atrius Health nurse-midwives attend births at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.