A prenatal nurse, also often called a midwife, is a nurse with a focus on care of pregnant women, during both the pregnancy and childbirth. This kind of medical professional may work in a hospital, a clinic, a private doctor's office, or her own practice. The most common duties include help with family planning, fetal monitoring during pregnancy, and care for the pregnant woman from conception until birth. In fact, many midwives also continue to see patients during the postpartum period in order to perform checkups and help with birth control options.
Many gynecological practices have prenatal nurses available, as they can help women who are interested in becoming pregnant. A prenatal nurse can offer testing to ensure that the woman is generally healthy and able to bear children, and may also dispense advice on how to time intercourse to result in conception. The typical prenatal nurse also provides Pap smears, breast exams, and pregnancy tests for women. While many gynecologists and even general practice doctors may be able to do the same, the advantage of using a prenatal nurse for these exams is that the same nurse can often be used throughout pregnancy, providing continuity of care.
Once a woman is pregnant, she is expected to visit a doctor or prenatal nurse at least once per month for the first two trimesters. During this time, the typical midwife can use a fetal Doppler to allow the woman to listen to her unborn baby's heartbeat, measure the growth of the uterus, and schedule ultrasounds with a radiologist. Some prenatal nurses can even perform ultrasounds on their own to ensure that the baby is growing properly. A prenatal nurse also usually offers screenings for genetic defects, performs urine tests to check for preeclampsia, and provides referrals to the laboratory for tests that screen for issues like gestational diabetes.
If any medical problems are detected, a midwife can usually treat it or refer the patient to anther specialist. For example, a midwife can advise a change in diet if gestational diabetes is diagnosed, as well as a referral to a nutritionist for help sticking to the new diet's guidelines. If certain medical issues are found that mark a high-risk pregnancy, a prenatal nurse can refer the woman to a high-risk practice. Of course, this type of nurse is typically involved in labor and delivery of the child, as well, either helping on the sidelines or actually delivering the baby. Once the child is born, the mother can usually return to the prenatal specialist for the postpartum appointment to ensure that she has healed properly, and also to obtain birth control if desired.