Until about 100 years ago, all babies everywhere were delivered not by doctors but by midwives. And although hospital births and medical deliveries have become commonplace in the USA and other Western countries, in many highly developed countries around the world – including England, Japan and Sweden – babies continue to be delivered by midwives today.
The main difference between doctors and midwives is their philosophy. Midwives see their role as supporting the pregnant woman and letting nature takes its course. They see pregnancy and childbirth as normal, healthy events during the course of the life cycle. Midwives look at the pregnant woman as a whole, and attend to her physical as well as psychological needs. They provide her with information, counseling and prenatal care in addition to being constantly by her side to offer assistance during the entire labor and birth. They also offer postpartum support, including assistance with learning to breastfeed and care for the baby, as well as psychological support for the new mother.
In his research, Dr. Peter Schlenzka, PhD, found the following benefits to natural delivery by a nurse-midwife:
When a pregnancy is proceeding normally and without any problems, a midwife will try to minimize technological interventions. Whereas in a physician-monitored birth the laboring woman is often confined to her bed or her hospital room, hooked up to monitors, and unable to experience the birth of her child in a natural way that feels comfortable or meaningful to her, many women feel the need to walk around, rock back and forth, and change positions to find what works best for their own body in terms of pain management and helping the labor progress.
Sometimes women are afraid they will not be able to give birth “alone,” and prefer to rely on options such as medications, tools, and surgery. But medical intervention can sometimes actually cause complications that lead to the need for more intervention. For example, the use of oxytocin to stimulate labor can interfere with the blood supply to the placenta, causing fetal distress. Oxytocin is also known to increase labor pain, which makes the laboring woman more likely to decide to have an epidural, and epidurals increase the need for use of forceps, vacuum extraction, and even C-section.
Some women decide to have elective c-sections for non-medical reasons, such as fear of pain and desire for an element of control over the situation. But there are many risks associated with C-sections, which are a major surgery, and it takes much longer to recover physically from a C-section than from a vaginal birth. Aside from the physical recovery, there is also some evidence that women who give birth via C-section may have more trouble bonding with their new babies than women who give birth vaginally.
Midwives are attuned to the female body and what it needs in order to naturally move the labor along and the baby toward the birth canal. They are not interested in medications or procedures to “coax” the process to happen faster. They work with your body, your feelings, and your baby to make the birthing process as low-tech, as natural, and most importantly, as safe as possible.