Choosing Your Prenatal and Birth Care Provider
Choosing the provider who will be present at your birth and support you throughout your pregnancy is a personal decision and key to the type of birth you desire. The likelihood that everyone around you will want to weigh in on the topic is a given, but at the end of the day, it is your decision.
First, think about what is essential to you in a provider. Is it their credentials? Their views on pain medication? How present they will be during labor and delivery? Their views on C-sections? Are you considering a home birth or a birthing center or hospital? Write down your priorities. Then, consider the style of care you personally prefer. Midwives tend to be more present during labor and will allow more space for the labor to unfold naturally before moving to medical interventions. Obstetricians are not as likely to give you as much personal care and time, and may move to medical interventions more quickly.
Options for Care:
Obstetrician (OB/GYN): The practice of obstetrics is the art and science of managing pregnancy, labor, delivery and puerperium (the time immediately after birth). The doctor delivers babies, and he/she will see you in their practice throughout pregnancy, though it’s important to note that with OB/GYNs, whoever is on call during your labor is the one who will be delivering your baby. During labor, the obstetrician will check your progress until it’s time to deliver. In the case of a cesarean, your OB/GYN would perform the procedure.
Midwife: A midwife is a trained professional with expertise in supporting women through a healthy pregnancy and birth, which they emphasize are normal life processes. Midwives are able to help identify unique physical, social, and emotional needs of the pregnant woman. When care required is outside of a midwife’s expertise, the woman is then referred to another health care provider for additional consultation or care. Statistically, midwives have lower rates of interventions, and their central role is to provide prenatal care and postpartum support and continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery.
Doula: A doula is a trained and experienced professional providing continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during, and just after birth (some even provide support during the postpartum period, if needed). The biggest difference between a doula and midwife is that a doula is not a medical professional, and will not perform medical procedures or deliver the baby. However, she will likely be one of the most consistent elements of the labor experience. Doulas only have one client at a time and will labor with a woman at home if she desires.
Since a doula is present primarily for support, consider using one in addition to a midwife or obstetrician. As mentioned, their one goal is to see that you have everything you need for a positive birth experience. Ami Burns, a childbirth educator and founder of Birth Talk, writes, “Doulas are important to women because their sole purpose is to provide physical, emotional, and informational support during labor and birth without doing anything medical.” They want nothing but the best for your pregnancy and birth, and that kind of support may come in handy during a time filled with questions and emotion.
Whether this decision is a difficult one or an easy no-brainer, always remember this: Though the routes of obstetrician, midwife and doula may be different, the desired outcome is always the same—a happy and healthy mother and baby.
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