The short answer is…yes!

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are able to treat patients without the supervision of a doctor, ruled by guidelines on what they can and cannot treat. Nurse practitioners play a crucial role in helping administer medical attention to individuals in need, including women in labor. Their training teaches many aspects of health care, and the delivery of babies is among those aspects.

While registered nurses who work in labor and delivery might deliver a baby if the doctor doesn't make it into the room fast enough, the only nurses specifically trained and legally allowed to deliver babies are Certified Nurse-Midwives, also known as CNMs. Certified Nurse-Midwives assist at around 8 percent of all deliveries in the United States, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Certified Nurse-Midwives advocate for client-driven birth choices with minimal medical intervention.

Education Requirements:

Certified Nurse-Midwives require additional postgraduate education and training in addition to a bachelor's degree in nursing. CNMs must also pass the board exams for licensure as a Registered Nurse before starting CNM training. Many nurses choose to work in labor and delivery or another woman-centered field before going back to school for their master's degree to become a Certified Nurse-Midwife. After graduation, passing the American Midwifery Certification Board examination gives the nurse practitioner the title of Certified Nurse-Midwife.

Work Settings:

Most CNMs work either in a hospital or birthing center, although some do home deliveries in states where they are legal. These services are provided in partnership with women and families in diverse settings such as ambulatory care clinics, private offices, community and public health systems, homes, hospitals, and birth centers.

Job Duties:

Certified Nurse-Midwives don't spend all day in a birthing room. Most work in group practices where they divide their time between seeing patients in the office and being on-call for the hospital or birthing center. Some CNMs may also run their own practice to do home births, aftercare, check-ups, and consultations. Certified Nurse-Midwives also do well-woman check-ups, performing Pap tests, breast exams, and other gynecological care. Certified Nurse-Midwives can write prescriptions in all 50 states. CNMs are knowledgeable in health promotion, disease prevention, counseling, and individualized wellness education.

Limitations:

Certified Nurse Midwives cannot perform major surgery such as Cesarean deliveries. If a client needs a Cesarean, the CNM must transfer care to a physician. A CNM can do minor surgical procedures, such as repairing a vaginal tear or episiotomy after birth. Because CNMs specialize in caring for low-risk pregnancies, women with high-risk pregnancies might need the care of a physician, so they will typically need the physician's "OK" to continue care by the Certified Nurse Midwife if the client had a prior high-risk pregnancy.

How About a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)?

A Women's Health Nurse Practitioner is an experienced and educated NP who focuses on primary care to women of all ages. It is important to note that a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner is different from a Certified Nurse Midwife. While CNMs tend to focus on childbearing, from conception to delivery, a WHNP follows the entire lifespan of a woman's health.

The Women's Health Nurse Practitioner's education is similar to the CNM with the exception of post-bachelor's degree education and certification/licensure.

Both of these types of nurses care for women during extremely important life-changing moments. As a Certified Nurse Midwife or Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, they will deal with issues surrounding infertility, child loss, pregnancy complications, postpartum difficulties, as well as the wonderful act of delivering life into this world.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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