Healthy Living

Midwife vs. OB-GYN: What Are the Differences?

Apr 30 2024

If you’re pregnant or planning to be in the near future, you may be wondering about what type of medical care you need to deliver your baby. That means finding a health care provider who takes care of pregnant patients, and you usually have two options: a midwife or OB-GYN.

Both OB-GYNs and midwives offer similar services, but they aren’t exactly alike.

What is an OB-GYN?

An obstetrician-gynecologist, or OB-GYN, is a medical doctor who specializes in issues pertaining to female reproductive health. That includes both pregnancy and childbirth. They can see you for routine visits, to perform surgery, to provide prenatal care and to assist with the delivery of your baby. Some may specialize in certain areas, like cancer of the reproductive organs, infertility or mother-fetus health.

All OB-GYNs must attend medical school as well as at least three years of additional specialized training.

What is a midwife? 

Midwives are also medical professionals, but they specialize in pregnancy as well as labor and delivery. They can work in an office or birth center. They can also work in hospital settings and may even make house calls.

Midwives do not go to medical school. In many cases, they start out as registered nurses and then go on to complete a midwifery program. Some have other degrees in the health care, in addition to their degrees in nursing, before going on to complete a midwifery program.

Others do not have a college education but learn through practice and working alongside another midwife. They become midwives once they meet the North American Registry of Midwives’ set of standards.

What are the differences between midwives and OB-GYNs?

The main difference between a midwife and a OB-GYN is the amount of education and training. Midwives complete a two to three-year master’s degree or midwifery program, but they aren’t required to go to medical school like an OB-GYN.

Both professionals can prescribe pain medication thought. And both can use technology, like fetal monitors, to keep track of your health and that of your baby during pregnancy, labor and delivery. However, a midwife can’t perform surgery, like a C-section.

Which one should I choose?  

Choosing between a midwife or OB-GYN is a personal preference most of the time! Some pregnant people prefer a professional who has been to medical school. Others see midwives as having a more natural or gentle approach. If you prefer home births with as little medical intervention as possible, a midwife might be your best choice. If you have a more complicated pregnancy, you may be better off with an OB-GYN.

High-risk pregnancies  

If you have what is considered a high-risk pregnancy, an OB-GYN is almost always your best choice. While both OB-GYNs and midwives offer the same general services, a doctor is better prepared and equipped to handle a complicated birth to keep both you and your baby safe.

Some reasons a pregnancy or birth might be considered high-risk include:

  • Complications with past pregnancies or births
  • Diabetes or gestational diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Twins or other multiples

It’s also possible that you’ll develop complications, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, during your pregnancy. In this case, even if you are working with a midwife, they may refer you to an OB-GYN for more advanced care.

What else should I consider?

If your pregnancy isn’t high-risk, there are some things to consider. To decide which is right for you, think about these questions.

  • Where do you want to have your baby? OB-GYNs almost always deliver babies in hospitals. Midwives may work in hospitals, birthing centers and even in your home in certain states.
  • What is your approach to birth? Midwives tend to offer more hands-on support during labor. They tend to favor more natural approaches to pain management. They may have you get up and walk around or soak in a tub rather than stay in a hospital bed hooked up to a monitor. Doctors are generally working with multiple patients at once so they can’t necessarily offer as much in the way of coaching or emotional support.
  • Do you plan on a vaginal birth or a C-section? Midwives can’t perform C-sections, though they can help a doctor perform one.

At the end of the day, it’s all about being informed, considering your preferences and getting the appropriate care you and your baby need.

Learn about the gynecology and obstetrics as well as the maternity care services we provide at Bon Secours.

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