When Joanie Holmes, of Hooper, Utah, became pregnant, she started seeing an ob-gyn who'd been recommended by a friend. "But after two appointments, I switched to a midwife whom my mom had suggested," she says. "To my doctor, I was 'just another delivery,' but the midwife really took the time to get to know me and understand how I wanted to give birth."
While physician-attended births are still the norm in the United States, the number of babies delivered by midwives is on the rise. Today, midwives deliver more than 310,000 babies -- 7 percent of all births. That number has more than doubled since 1990.
Though the image of midwives is changing, lots of people still think of them as untrained "coaches" who deliver babies at home or who insist that you give birth without drugs. If that's been your impression, read on for four things you didn't know about midwives -- and why you may want to consider finding one for your next pregnancy.
1. Midwives have gone mainstream. Unlike doulas or birthing assistants, whose main job is to comfort a woman during labor, most midwives are medical professionals with varying amounts of formal training.
"When my friends found out I had a midwife, most of them assumed I was giving birth at home," says Jennifer Martin, of Eldridge, Iowa. "But my son, Jonathan, was born in a hospital." In fact, 97 percent of midwives practice in hospitals, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Only about 2 percent deliver in birthing centers, and 1 percent in homes. Certified nurse-midwives can also administer labor-inducing drugs and epidurals.