Midwifery is a health care profession in which providers offer care to childbearing women during pregnancy, labour and birth, and during the postpartum period. They also help care for the newborn and assist the mother with breastfeeding.
A practitioner of midwifery is known as a midwife, a term used in reference to both women and men, although the majority of midwives are female. In addition to providing care to women during pregnancy and birth, many midwives also provide primary care to women, well-woman care related to reproductive health, annual gynecological exams,family planning, and menopausal care.
Midwives are specialists in low-risk pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, although they are trained to recognize and deal with deviations from the normal. Obstetricians, in contrast, are specialists in illness related to childbearing and insurgery. The two professions can be complementary, but may be at odds in some countries, where obstetricians are taught to “actively manage” labor, while midwives are taught not to intervene unless necessary.
Midwives refer women to general practitioners or obstetricians when a pregnant woman requires care beyond the midwives’ area of expertise. In many parts of the world, these professions work together to provide care to childbearing women. In others, only the midwife is available to provide care. Midwives are trained to handle certain more difficult deliveries, including breech births, twin births and births where the baby is in a posterior position, using non-invasive techniques.
According to the International Confederation of Midwives (a definition that has also been adopted by the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics):
A midwife is a person who, having been regularly admitted to a midwifery educational program that is duly recognized in the country in which it is located, has successfully completed the prescribed course of studies in midwifery and has acquired the requisite qualifications to be registered and/or legally licensed to practice midwifery.
The midwife is recognized as a responsible and accountable professional who works in partnership with women to give the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period, to conduct births on the midwife’s own responsibility and to provide care for the infant. This care includes preventive measures, the promotion of normal birth, the detection of complications in mother and child, accessing of medical or other appropriate assistance and the carrying out of emergency measures.
The midwife has an important task in health counseling and education, not only for the woman, but also within the family and community. This work should involve antenatal education and preparation for parenthood and may extend to women’s health, sexual or reproductive health and childcare, and to gain the knowledge to counteract the lack of pain relievers and antiseptics.
A midwife may practice in any setting including in the home, the community, hospitals, clinics or health units.
The term midwife is derived from Middle English: midwyf, literally “with-woman”, i.e. “the woman with, the woman assisting” (in Middle English and Old English, mid = “with”, wīf = “woman”).
Midwifery training is considered one of the most challenging and competitive courses amongst other healthcare subjects.Most midwives undergo a 32 month vocational training program, or an 18 month nurse conversion course (on top of the 32 month nurse training course). Thus midwives potentially could have had up to 5 years of total training. Midwifery training consists of classroom based learning provided by select Universities in conjunction with hospital and community based training placements at NHS Trusts.
Midwives may train to be community Health Visitors (as may Nurses).
Many midwives also work in the community. The role of community midwives include the initial appointments with pregnant women, managing clinics, postnatal care in the home, and attending home births. A community midwife would typically have a pager and be responsible for a particular area, contacted by ambulance control when needed. Sometimes they are paged to help out in the hospital when there are insufficient midwives available.