Midwives preside at about 75 percent of the world's childbirths, but they're used far less in the United States. Still, their numbers are growing in the U.S. -- in 2006, they attended 7.4 percent of all births, which represents a huge increase from the year before. This growth can be attributed to the rising interest in natural childbirth in this country.
Women who use midwives have a lower risk of requiring a cesarean section.
Midwives are a good option for women who have low-risk pregnancies. A high-risk pregnancy might involve a woman over the age of 35, a woman who had previously experienced a difficult birth, a woman who has hypertension or gestational diabetes or the presence of twins or triplets.
There are several types of midwives with varying levels of training. Certified nurse-midwives are registered nurses with a bachelor's degree and specialized training; certified midwives aren't nurses, but they hold a bachelor's degree and receive specialized training; direct-entry midwives may not have a degree, and they commonly train through apprenticeship.
Midwives remain controversial for their role in home births, which several major medical institutions claim are unsafe.