OBGYN or Midwife: 3 Important Differences

obgyn or midwife

You’re having a baby! It probably goes without saying that your mind is overflowing with questions after having just received this life-altering news. One of the most pressing of those questions is probably who your care provider should be. You know you want to give birth in a hospital, but you aren’t sure if you want an OBGYN or midwife to care for you. Where do you even start in navigating all of your options? Right here!

What is the difference between an OBGYN and a midwife?

When deciding between an OBGYN or midwife, it’s important to note these three differences:

  1. Education
  2. Models of care
  3. Types of pregnancies they care for (high risk or low risk)


In order to practice as an OBGYN, a physician is required to have completed a bachelor’s degree, four years of medical school, and a four to seven-year medical residency that includes surgical training and is specific to obstetrics and gynecology. 

In the state of Utah, there are four different types of midwives that can legally practice (the differences of which you can learn about in this blog post), but the only type of midwife that can practice in a hospital setting is a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). CNMs must be Registered Nurses and they must also complete a Master’s Degree in Nurse-Midwifery.

Models of care.

The typical model of care for an OBGYN is more medically-focused and medically-managed. Medical interventions are more commonly introduced and utilized under the OBGYN model of care. An OBGYN will typically play a very small role in the birth itself, as they are usually only present to catch the baby and for a brief period after the baby has been born. OBGYNs are trained surgeons and can perform cesarean sections, if necessary.

The midwifery model of care is usually more naturally-focused and mother-and-child driven. The approach to care is typically more hands-off and less prone to medical intervention. A midwife is more likely to play a more active role in the labor and birth process. CNMs are able to carry medications and write prescriptions. They cannot, however, perform cesarean sections, so if a cesarean section becomes necessary, an OBGYN will have to perform it.

It is important to remember that these are just general descriptions of the typical models of care for these two types of providers. This is not to say that these models of care are always implemented by every OBGYN or midwife. There are certainly OBGYNs that implement a model of care that is more like that of a midwife and vice versa.

Types of pregnancies they care for.

OBGYNs can care for women with high or low-risk pregnancies. Some OB-GYNs specialize in or have more experience in certain types of high-risk scenarios, such as pre-eclampsia, placenta previa, multiples, etc.

CNMs typically only care for women with low-risk pregnancies. If a patient is receiving care from a CNM and later develops problems that cause her pregnancy to be deemed high-risk, it is likely that the patient will need to transfer care to an OBGYN.

The choice to go with an OBGYN or midwife can seem daunting, but it essentially all comes down to what is most important to you pertaining to your birth experience.

Is it important to you that your provider be able to handle any and all medical scenarios that could potentially occur? Then an OBGYN might be the best choice for you. Or is it more important to you that your provider play a more active role in your labor and birth experience? Because if that’s the case, a CNM might be more up your alley. Either way, the choice is entirely yours and your intuition will be your greatest guide!

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