Women have long relied on midwives to usher them through pregnancy and other stages of womanhood. Midwifery is now more popular than ever after two decades of surging growth — the number of certified nurse midwife (CNM) and certified midwife (CM) attended births reached a record high at 317,626 births in 2008, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

CNMs are registered nurses who have completed graduate-level training in midwifery and have passed a national certification exam. They typically work in homes, birth centers, clinics and hospitals.

Standards for education and certification in midwifery are identical for CNMs and CMs. The official accrediting body for CNM/CM education programs is the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education, and currently there are 39 ACME-accredited midwifery education programs in the U.S.

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While midwives are well known for attending births, respondents of a recent American College of Nurse Midwives survey revealed other major tasks:

  • Reproductive care (53.3 percent): Prenatal care, birth, postpartum care, gynecologic exams, vaginal infections and birth control
  • Primary care (33.1 percent): Annual exams, writing prescriptions, basic nutrition counseling, parenting education and patient education.

“Assisting women with some of the most important experiences in their lives is humbling to say the least,” Leslie Ludka, CNM, MSN, the director of midwifery at Cambridge Health Alliance Cambridge Hospital and Birth Center in Mass., told Clinical Advisor. “Each woman is different and has different needs. Although a wonderful part of the profession, it is always a challenge to be sure we are walking beside a woman on her journey and guiding her, not leading her.”