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A birth attendant follows the care of the pregnant patient before, during, and after the birth of her baby. In addition, the birth attendant may be called upon when the woman wants to give birth in the home instead of in a hospital. The birth attendant can, however, accompany her patient to the hospital if a home birth is not recommended or desired. She can stay with the labor patient throughout the labor and delivery process, providing emotional support to both patient and her partner.
Midwives and doulas are birth attendants. In addition, a midwife may be a registered nurse with a master's degree in maternal/child nursing. A formal education is not required, however, to be a birth attendant or doula. Certified nurse midwives typically have years of experience in obstetrical and labor and delivery nursing. They may be employed at hospitals and birth centers, or have independent practices of their own. Certified nurse midwives can often prescribe medication, and in some cases, administer anesthesia if they are also classified as certified nurse anesthetists.
Giving birth can be the happiest day of a woman's life, but it can also be the most stressful. The presence of a birth attendant can make a significant difference in how the patient manages her pain and stress level. Sometimes, when anxiety levels are high, perception of pain is magnified. Conversely, when stress levels are low and when the patient has an excellent support system, including the birth attendant, she may cope better with labor pains.
For women who choose to deliver their babies without anesthesia or pain relief, a birth attendant can offer the emotional support needed to face that challenge. The attendant can help the labor patient focus on things other than the pain, help her facilitate proper breathing patterns and even provide a little comic relief. Sometimes during the labor process, the patient may feel out of control and scared, and although she may have her partner close by, having another experienced person nearby may be calming.
If a mother chooses a home birth, she should notify the attending physician or closest hospital of the imminent birth. Chances are, the home birth will be uneventful and uncomplicated. It is still prudent to place the hospital staff on notice in the event the patient needs to be transported there in case complications arise for mother or baby.
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