With a master’s in nurse-midwifery, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, you could work as a midwife. Although you may have heard the term before, there’s a good chance that you don’t know exactly what this healthcare professional does or what the typical day for a nurse-midwife looks like. Depending on the day and on the midwife’s work environment, the tasks that might fill up your day in this career may include caring for laboring mothers and delivering babies, providing prenatal care, performing reproductive care services and providing primary care.
Supporting Moms in Labor and Delivering Babies
Midwives are probably best known for their work delivering babies, and nearly one in ten births that occur in the United States is attended by a midwife, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives. The majority – 94 percent – of births managed by either a Certified Nurse-Midwife or a Certified Midwife without a nursing background occur in hospital settings. Less commonly, nurse midwives may attend births in freestanding birth centers (accounting for 3.2 percent of births with midwives) or in homes (accounting for just 2.6 percent of births).
Regardless of where the birth occurs, the midwife’s job is to support the mother throughout labor, providing holistic patient care that originates from a nursing model of care. That encompasses everything from monitoring the health of the mother and baby and the progression of labor to providing pain relief in various forms. Nurse midwives aren’t opposed to the use of pharmaceutical methods of pain relief, like an epidural or IV pain medications, to ease the pain and discomfort of labor. However, they often promote alternative or complementary forms of pain relief, including aromatherapy, affirmations and visualizations, hypnosis and massage, either instead of or in addition to anesthesia.
Midwives handled uncomplicated vaginal deliveries and aren’t authorized to do C-sections or, in most cases, to intervene with forceps or vacuums to assist with delivery. If complications arise during labor and delivery, a midwife may have to bring in a physician.
Providing Prenatal and Maternity Care
The care a midwife provides to mothers-to-be begins long before the baby is born. Throughout pregnancy, prenatal care is needed to make sure that both mother and baby are healthy and to catch the symptoms that could indicate complications. Nurse midwives provide many of the same health care services to pregnant women as obstetricians do. These services include examining the patient at routine appointments, ordering the appropriate tests and interpreting their findings and helping find solutions for morning sickness, pain and other normal but challenging pregnancy symptoms.
Many patients find that midwives are more likely to recommend solutions found in complementary medicine, such as chiropractic care, than physicians due in part to their holistic approach to patient care.
Performing Routine Checkups and Investigating Problems in Reproductive Care
Not all of a midwife’s time is spent caring for pregnant women. In fact, the American College of Nurse-Midwives reported that reproductive care in general, as opposed to maternal care and childbirth, was the main job responsibility for more than half of Certified Nurse-Midwives and Certified Midwives. If your practice focuses more broadly on reproductive health care services, you might spend much of your time performing pelvic exams and breast exams as part of annual well visits or suspected problems. Like gynecologists, Certified Nurse-Midwives perform routine pap smear screenings to check for cervical cancer. They also help patients in making decisions about birth control methods and family planning.
Some patients report feeling more comfortable – and less rushed – talking to midwives, rather than physicians, about birth control. Different birth control methods affect patients differently, so it’s important that patients find an option that works for them.
Doing Annual Wellness Exams and Educating Patients in Primary Care
As a midwife, you will have a specialized education and clinical training in women’s health care and in pregnancy and birth. However, you also gain a broader knowledge of women’s health throughout the lifespan. Midwives can serve as primary health care providers for women of all ages. In fact, 33 percent of Certified Nurse-Midwives and Certified Midwives spend most of their time providing primary care, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives. In this role, your job duties might include performing annual wellness exams not limited to gynecologic care, counseling patients on healthy lifestyle matters such as nutrition and diagnosing and treating sick patients.
Midwives may also diagnose, begin treating and monitor patients’ chronic health conditions, although they may share the duty of managing those conditions with a doctor in a relevant specialty.