As you pursue a healthy life, you should check in with a health care provider who can let you know how you’re doing, help revise your plan for healthier living, and offer advice on anything you’re wondering about. This generalized type of care – when you see someone for regular or routine care instead of a specialist for one particular issue – is called primary care. Your primary care provider is the person you see for health promotion and preventive care. Midwives are one type of health care professional who can act as your primary care provider, and they’re a great choice for any woman at any stage of life, from first period through menopause and beyond.
Your primary care provider plays an important role throughout your life. They are your first point of contact for most things related to your health. When you require specialized care beyond the expertise of your primary care provider, they’ll give you recommendations and referrals for where, when, and how to get the care you need. Your primary care provider will also help you develop questions to ask the specialist during your visit, and offer advice.
The advantage of building trust and forming a lasting relationship with one main provider is that you will have better continuity of care. That means that over time, you can rely on a single professional who knows who you are, knows your health history, and can act as a coordinator with other health care providers, services, and institutions. Research has shown that better continuity of care means better quality of care – which means improved overall wellness for you. Your primary care provider helps you achieve your health promotion goals and has you covered when you encounter illness.
Your midwife can provide this type of care. They can be the person you go to for help staying healthy, and the first person to call when you are not feeling well. When you decide to visit a midwife, you will receive a special level of care that may not always be present in most health care settings. Midwives often spend extra time with you during your appointment, listening to your concerns, and addressing problems. Listening to women is the hallmark of midwifery care. Your midwife strives to be your partner in care, not just your provider of care.
You’ll have different reproductive and primary health needs throughout your life. Young people can benefit from visiting a primary care provider before their first menstrual period. You do not need to have an exam when you see your provider. A midwife can discuss the many changes that occur as you go through puberty and begin having your periods. Establishing a primary care relationship before these changes happen means that you will feel more informed and ready for everything, from your first sexual experiences to handling peer pressure. Your provider can partner with you and your family to help you make safe, smart decisions when it comes to your body and your health.
For teenagers, primary care provides education, support, and information through this phase of rapid growth and change. If your sexual life changes or you need contraception, your primary care provider can discuss your options and how to make sure you have safer sex.
It’s never too early to start developing a relationship with a midwife or other primary care provider. You’ll be better off for it in the long run!
Adults need primary care, too. Much of the health care you seek during your fertile years may center on your plans about whether or not to have children. You have a lot of decisions to make about your reproductive health as part of your overall wellness. It’s important to get routine women’s health care during this time, such as pelvic exams and Pap tests, breast exams, and screenings for sexually transmitted infections, as well as health promotion, vaccinations, and other preventive care. A primary care provider can work with you to develop a plan for your family timeline. A midwife can prescribe your birth control if you want it, and continue your care if or when you do become pregnant.
When you stop ovulating, stop having periods, and are no longer able to get pregnant, your primary care needs will change again. Your body will go through another period of change as you leave reproductive concerns mostly behind you. Now is the time to refocus on heart health, wellness, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight and exercise routine. Physical changes aren’t the only ones – you’ll also experience emotional changes from the hormones associated with menopause, and you may find that your sexual life and libido changes, too.
Regularly seeking primary care is especially important during menopause and beyond. Aging requires that we pay more careful attention to specific aspects of our bodies and our health, and your primary care provider will continue to be the best person to keep an eye on the big-picture view of your health. Your midwife can continue to provide care and treatment for many primary care issues far beyond the time when you stop menstruating.
It’s never too late to start developing a relationship with a midwife or other primary care provider who can help guide you into your later years.
Some of the services that fall under primary care include:
- Preventive care and health promotion services, like complete physical exams, necessary blood work, vaccinations, and testing for diseases. Your body has needs from head to toe, and they’re all important.
- Women’s health care services, like an annual well woman visit that includes a pelvic exam and Pap smear, advice on contraception (and prescribing birth control), sexual health counselling, and STI testing.
- Prescribing vaccinations and medications to treat or help manage chronic, long-term conditions.
- Your midwife or other primary care provider may also be willing to discuss alternative or complementary treatments for many health issues.
Thinking about everything that’s necessary for your primary care needs may seem daunting. Office visits with your provider and tests take time, and medicines cost money. It might feel like a burden for many people – but there are resources that can help you access this important care.
Everyone in the United States should now have health insurance. Nearly all plans, whether through the state or federal health care “marketplaces” or through private insurers, cover a wide range of preventive and screening health care tests at no additional cost to the patient. Many also cover the cost of the office visit for an annual well woman exam or adult physical. This means that most people can get these important health promotion and preventive care checkups for free.
Use your annual visit as an opportunity to talk to your primary care provider about everything you want to – make a list and bring it with you into the exam room to make sure you use your visit to its fullest potential. It is also okay to ask your provider to give you prescriptions for the cheaper generic versions of drugs, if they need to prescribe any medications for you. If you have private health insurance, check with your plan to see what is covered. You can start researching online if you have health insurance through the marketplaces, Medicaid, or Medicare.
You always have options, even if you have no health insurance. Check online for free clinics and community health centers in your area, or look for a health center run by the US Health Resources and Services Administration, where you pay what you can afford, based on your income.
No matter what your situation, midwives, as primary and women’s health care providers, can work with you to make a plan to improve your health and prevent you from developing avoidable health problems down the road. Many health risks can be modified by making lifestyle changes, and a professional is the best person to talk to about those changes.
Remember: everyone deserves good health.
Special Issue: Intimate Partner Violence
No one wants to think that the person they love would hurt them. But it happens a lot. Intimate partner violence (also called domestic violence) can happen to anyone.
Some signs that you are being abused are if someone:
- Kicks, shoves, slaps, punches, shakes, pinches, pulls your hair, or physically harms you in any way
- Forces you to have sex against your will or makes you have sex in ways that are painful or ways that make you feel bad about yourself
- Keeps you away from friends or relatives or does not allow you to work or needs to know where you are all the time
- Says things to you that make you feel bad about yourself or calls you names in front of your children or others
- Threatens to hurt your children if you do not do what they want
- Hurts your dog, cat, or other pets to punish or scare you
- Threatens to take your children if you leave them
- Threatens to kill themselves if you leave
You deserve to feel safe and secure. You do not deserve to be hurt. Read this handout for more information on how to leave an abusive relationship and make a plan for leaving. You can also talk to your midwife or other health care provider about abusive relationships. Your health care providers are trustworthy – in fact, they are not allowed by law to tell anyone else what you talk about when you have an appointment with them. You can let your midwife or other health care provider know what is going on if you are being abused, and they can help get you the care you need.
If you need to talk to someone about your situation now, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.