The ABCs of Maternity Care

A registered midwife (RM) is a trained health professional who provides primary maternity care to women from early pregnancy up to three months postpartum. RMs provide personalized care and comprehensive information to women and their families to support informed decision-making. Midwives deliver babies in hospital or home settings based on client preference, and are available on-call 24 hours a day.

Registered midwives assess and support physical, psychological and emotional health during pregnancy and early postpartum, and work with other health care professionals, like obstetricians and general practitioners, if complications arise. As primary care providers during pregnancy, midwives can order bloodwork, ultrasounds and other tests, as needed.

Midwifery is regulated in Canada by provincial and territorial authorities, and is available to women with BC Care Cards free of charge.

A registered nurse (RN) is a trained health care professional who works under the supervision of primary care providers, such as doctors. Their duties range from recording medical histories and helping examine patients, to providing supervised treatment and diagnostic tests. A registered nurse may also analyze the results of certain tests, operate medical machinery and administer medications in collaboration with other health care providers. RNs cannot prescribe medications to patients.

A general practitioner (GP), or a “family doctor,” is a health care professional who is knowledgeable in a range of medical conditions, and therefore can provide general care to patients. GPs diagnose and treat diseases, disorders and injuries alike, and are skilled in treating individuals with multiple health issues. If GPs cannot treat a particular health complaint, they can refer patients to specialists.
GPs also provide preventative care and health education, and tend to establish lasting relationships with their patients. If complications arise during pregnancy, or if a woman is at risk of experiencing complications, a registered midwife will transfer patient care to a GP.

An obstetrician is a health care professional who focuses on labor and delivery in hospital settings. Obstetricians also specialize in surgery, and are therefore able to provide pregnant women with Cesarean sections when the need arises. They care for women throughout their pregnancies, and monitor the baby’s health during prenatal visits. They also perform diagnostic tests to look for potential problems with their clients’ pregnancies and labors. The non-surgical version of this medical specialty is midwifery.

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse who has education and training in a specialty area that allows her to work independently. NPs may practice in partnership with other health care professionals, like doctors or registered midwives; however, they do not require the doctor supervision that registered nurses do. NPs provide a range of services to families and individuals of all ages, and can act as primary-care providers, which RNs cannot.

In Canada, nurse practitioners are able to diagnose and manage disorders and diseases, prescribe medications, order tests and make referrals to specialists, as required. NPs make prevention, wellness and patient education a priority, and encourage clients to make the healthiest choices possible. Like RNs, they are licensed by the province or territory in which they practice, and their services are free to those with BC Care Cards.

A doula is a non-medical support to pregnant women and their families before, during and after birth. They provide emotional and physical support, as well as information to help parents make informed birthing decisions. Doulas also offer postpartum support and guidance, particularly in terms of feeding newborns. They are not regulated in Canada by any provincial or territorial authority, and are paid for privately by the women who use their services.

Next: Prenatal Care