When a woman becomes pregnant, there is a lot for her to consider, and many important decisions to be made. One of the biggest questions: Who will deliver my baby?

For a growing number of women in the United States, the answer is a midwife.

Around 10 percent of women choose to have a nurse-midwife deliver their baby. And though midwifery is a practice that has been around for centuries, the role of a midwife has changed and grown to include more comprehensive care for women.

"One of the biggest misconceptions is that we don't attend births in the hospital," said Kris Conrad, D.N.P., C.N.M. "In fact, in our practice, all the births we attend are in the hospital setting," continued Conrad, a Carilion Clinic certified nurse-midwife (C.N.M.).

Carilion Clinic has three full-time C.N.M.s, who provide 24-7 coverage and help women deliver their babies at the Birthplace at Carilion New River Valley Medical Center.

Another misconception is that midwives do not provide pain relief and only promote natural births.

"Our goal is to help moms feel empowered, knowledgeable, and supported in whatever decisions they make when it comes to pregnancy and birth," Conrad said. "We are able to order pain relief medications or epidurals if that's something the laboring mother would like, and we are able to provide physical and emotional support to women who choose to have a natural labor and birth."

By working with physicians, in the office practice and in a hospital setting, midwives can continue to focus on the patient's needs before and during labor, while also providing a safe environment in case something unexpected arises.

"It really is comprehensive care," said Sherrie Doss, D.N.P., C.N.M. "We work as partners with our physicians. Our patients can choose to have a midwife with them during labor and birth and we are able to support that request. If the woman has a high-risk problem requiring consultations, or if she needs surgery, our physicians are always available. They are also willing to call us if they have a patient who would best benefit from midwifery care, too."

Some people think of midwives as needed only during labor and delivery, but C.N.M.s are able to provide a full range of women's health services, from adolescents to women transitioning through menopause.

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