With all eyes on the impending birth of England’s future monarch, there has been a great deal of discussion over the Duchess of Cambridge’s plan to have a “natural” birth and what that means. Childbirth entails a very personal series of decisions, including whether to use an obstetrician or a midwife, whether to utilize pain medications or epidurals, and where to deliver the baby. Many expectant mothers think that delivering with a midwife and having a natural birth mean the same thing, but this isn’t quite the case.
Midwives are licensed medical professionals – it’s a division of nursing, and these practitioners have a great deal of clinical education. And while midwives may have a reputation for being hippies or earth mothers, they actually provide care that is almost identical to that provided by an obstetrician. Both midwives and OBs are able to use epidurals, antibiotics, and medicines like Pitocin (to induce labor) when needed or requested. The only thing an OB can do that a midwife can’t is perform a c-section, although midwives can and do recommend c-sections if needed.
A natural birth means that the mother intends to give birth with minimal medical intervention – she plans to avoid additional medications or epidurals and does not want to have a c-section. This type of birth can be achieved with either an obstetrician or a midwife – it’s just important to communicate your wishes clearly with your provider. In high-risk pregnancies, such as those where the mother has preeclampsia or gestational diabetes or where placenta previa or breech presentation are a concern, it may not be safe or possible for the mother to deliver without medical intervention. Even in a natural birth, the mother and baby are still regularly checked and monitored by a clinical professional to make sure that both are doing well.
If you have a low-risk pregnancy, you can choose to deliver with an obstetrician or a midwife, and you can choose to deliver in a variety of different settings and positions to make the birth easier and more comfortable for you. Just remember that the goal is to keep both mom and baby healthy, so unforeseen complications may mean that the plan has to change. Talk to your provider about any concerns or questions that you have.