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What is a Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)?

April 30, 2014

If you’ve ever felt a little confused about what exactly midwives do, or how they’re different than other healthcare professionals, don’t worry! Between physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse-midwives, there’s a lot to keep straight.

Here are the top three things you need to know about certified nurse-midwives (CNMs).

What Certified Nurse-Midwives Do

CNMs work collaboratively alongside physicians and other members of the healthcare team to provide personalized care to women. Although CNMs are typically thought of within the context of pregnancy and birth, today’s CNMs offer an ever-expanding range of services to women during all stages of life. In addition to providing women with expert pregnancy, birth, and postpartum care, CNMs can provide routine health check-ups, gynecologic care, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and more. Most importantly, CNMs are also licensed to prescribe a wide range of medications, including all forms of birth control.

While CNMs are highly qualified to handle a wide-range of healthcare needs, they are also experts in recognizing unusual or complicated issues that may require a physician’s consultation. In the event a woman needs to undergo a cesarean birth, the midwife will play a supporting role to the physician who performs the surgery.

Training and Certification

Midwife training is an ancient practice that dates back to the 5th century BC. These days, CNMs are formally educated in both nursing and midwifery through programs at accredited institutions, and as a result, all midwives have to obtain a minimum of a master’s degree. Completing a midwifery degree program, which combines theory and hands-on learning, can last anywhere from two to three years. After graduation, the midwife must pass a rigorous national certification exam from the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB). Like other healthcare professional, CNMs are required to undergo continuing education each year, and must be re-certified every five years.

Why Choose a Certified Nurse-Midwife?

CNMs are ideal for women who want a healthcare experience that’s tailored to their unique preferences. While some healthcare providers may take a more standardized “one-size-fits-all” approach, CNMs place a special emphasis on each woman’s unique situation and values. For this reason, patients of CNMs receive an excellent standard of care, while also gaining flexibility in determining how they want their healthcare needs met.

According to the American College of Nurse Midwives, 98% of midwife-attended births happen in a hospital setting. However, midwives frequently practice in other settings, including: clinics, birth centers, and even private homes.

Several studies have shown that healthy women with normal pregnancies who choose CNMs have outcomes as good as women who chose to work with OB/GYN physicians. Although CNMs won’t hesitate to use medical interventions if they’re necessary, the majority of women who choose to work with CNMs tend to have fewer medical interventions and cesarean sections.