Erin Irwin is the University of Chicago Medicine’s Director of Midwifery Services and the head of the Family Birth Center’s team of midwives. She has more than twenty years of experience in offering bedside support to laboring women, including a specialization in helping with unmedicated, natural labor. As a certified nurse midwife, she listens to women in order to provide them with control and comfort in managing their labor and delivery experiences.
Science Life spoke to her about how midwives offer healthy women individualized care throughout their lives.
Science Life: Who is a certified nurse midwife and how are they different from other nurses who assist during pregnancies?
Erin Irwin: Nurse midwives are advanced practice nurses (APNs) that have been educated and certified to care for women who are well and healthy. We care for women throughout their lives, providing well woman gynecological care, birth control, preconception care and prenatal care. In many ways, the care that midwives provide women does not look very different than an obstetrician gynecologist. The hallmarks of midwifery care, though, are spending time teaching and talking to women, emphasizing well care, and less intervention. During a pregnancy, women usually find midwives will spend more time listening and allowing women to direct their own care. There’s very strong evidence that well women are best cared for by midwives. Some examples of this include fewer forcep or vacuum deliveries, fewer c-section rates and fewer vaginal lacerations.
What does prenatal education by midwives look like at the Family Birth Center?
Prenatal care comes in a lot of forms. We provide the standard evidence-based prenatal care that is the same as the MD’s here at the University of Chicago Medicine. Another type of care that we may look towards being able to provide is called centering of pregnancy. It’s a form of group care that has really good evidence for patients being connected to each other and having more comprehensive teaching. Midwives are very supportive of patients’ choices when it comes to things like Lamaze, Bradley methods and other type of low-intervention prenatal preparation. This way, we inform women of all their options—whether that includes pain medication or not—but ultimately allow them to pick what they think is best.
What else might expecting parents want to know about your services?
We have two large natural birthing rooms with tubs and we have all the supportive items that women would need to have comfort and help facilitate their labor. We have birthing balls and peanut balls—which help in laboring position changes, which are so important to pain relief as well as progress in labor. The midwives here also offer aromatherapy, sterile water papule injections and telemetry monitoring. This means our patients can be up and walking—it’s something that really good units have.
What can a first time patient expect when they visit the Family Birth Center?
We have a very experienced midwife service for women who want a midwifery approach. Patients will see one of five midwives, including me, and one of those five midwives will be with them in labor and delivery. This means their midwife will be with them throughout the whole process.
There’s a relationship that you build with the person you go to for prenatal care, and it’s very special—that connection when you hear the heartbeat for the very first time and you get to ask all the questions about why you’re feeling the way you do during the pregnancy. It’s also important to know you have someone support your plan for labor, and you trust this person understands what you want for your own birth experience. This safety and sense of trust leads to a healthier, calmer labor and reduces rates of postpartum depression. Not only that, but it also makes women feel really powerful about their experience, no matter how it turned out. Some women might need a c-section or interventions, but they oftentimes will feel more supported and better understand why those things happened when it’s a midwife that they know well describing it.