An increasing number of B.C. mothers are using the services of midwives, according to one of the province's busiest maternity hospitals.

"It took a while for women to understand that midwives are covered by MSP and they don't have to pay for it privately, and that midwives offered both hospital birth and home birth," BC Women's Hospital's head of midwifery told CTV News.

While many still think of midwives as being only for home births, registered midwives are health professionals who provide care including diagnostic testing, bloodwork and support in hospital. They also provide emotional support, answer questions and offer options so parents can make informed choices without feeling pressed for time.

Linda Knox said about 20 to 25 per cent of mothers at the hospital now have a midwife. Provincially, the Midwives Association has a goal of increasing the number of births they assist to 35 per cent by 2020.

 

It's a choice they say can improve care for both mothers and babies, and can help take pressure off the provincial health care system by saving millions of dollars.

"Midwives typically have lower rates of interventions. We also tend to have shorter hospital stays," Knox said.

"And then we can provide in-home post-partum care, which most women love."

New mom Samantha Aro recently welcomed daughter Charlotte with help from three midwives before, during and after birth.

"It was a game changer," she said.

"It was just such a positive experience and way exceeded my expectations."

Aro said she'd heard others speak highly of their experiences with midwives, and made her decision after hearing how long appointments with them would be.

"That really sold me because I had a lot of concerns going in, just being new and nervous, and I thought that might be a good situation for me to get all those questions answered," she said.

And unlike a doctor, she knew who would be there in the delivery room because she'd met the midwives several times through her pregnancy. The same midwives made home visits and saw her at a clinic during Charlotte's first six weeks.

"We struggled a lot with breastfeeding afterwards, and I really credit the midwives' post-natal appointments with helping sort that out," she said.

Charlotte cried often and didn't sleep well in her first few days, she added, but the midwives were able to help make small changes that worked for the family.

"She, overnight, was like a different baby, all the sudden sleeping again and happy," Aro said.

"That really was such a massive change for us, and there's no way we would have figured that out."

But while midwives have been regulated in B.C. for 20 years, misconceptions still linger around the profession.

Aro said many assumed her use of midwives meant that she planned on giving birth without the help of Western medicine and painkillers.

"The assumption (was) that I was pushing for this all-natural, in-the-woods home birth," Aro said.

"While that may work for some people, that wasn't what we were thinking, and I never felt like I was pushed in any way to not take an epidural, take an epidural, try this or try that. They just would lay out the options and help me make an informed choice."

She said the experience made her feel empowered, and that she's now recommending it to other women.

"It was just so much better than I expected."

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber