For centuries, midwives have provided care to women during childbirth. Midwives today offer this care to women not just during the birthing process, but also throughout their antenatal period ( pregnancy), and for up to 28 days after a baby is born.
A midwife is the expert in normal pregnancy and birth. They are specially trained to care for mothers and babies throughout normal pregnancy, labour and after the birth, and therefore provide all or most of the care for the majority of women. You should know the name of the midwife who is responsible for your midwifery care. Midwives can be based in the community or at a specific hospital, or may even be based at your GP surgery. This will all be explained to you when you book in for antenatal care.
Today there are more than 35,000 qualified midwives in the UK England and they deliver more than 60% of babies - either in hospital maternity units, special midwifery units or as home births.
What kind of training do midwives have?
Becoming a midwife means undertaking professional education at degree level. Some midwives are qualified nurses who have chosen to change career direction and undertake the extra study necessary to be registered as a midwife. Others begin their career by working their way up via a range of roles (for example from support roles, which require no set qualifications) before going on to study for a registered midwifery degree. Some begin their midwifery career after a first career in an unrelated field.
History of midwifery
Centuries before obstetricians were delivering babies in hospitals, midwives in Europe attended to women as they gave birth to their children at home. The term "midwife" comes from the Old English phrase meaning, “with woman”.
In the UK, in 1881, three educated midwives, aided by the wealthy philanthropist Louisa Hubbard, set up the Matrons’ Aid Society, or the Trained Midwives’ Registration Society (later the Midwives’ Institute, and, ultimately, the Royal College of Midwives). The Society’s aim was the rehabilitation of the midwife through a recognised system of training and registration. Midwifery can be said to have begun as a profession in the UK in 1902, when the Midwives Bill became law, establishing a Central Midwives Board (consisting mainly of medical men). After years of struggle by midwives to overcome prejudice from the medical profession, the 1936 Midwives Act provided for a nationwide salaried and pensioned municipal midwife service.
What do midwives do?
The main function of a midwife is to provide support and care to women during labour and delivery. However, midwives today don't just attend births, they offer many types of gynaecological care. Midwives can:
- Perform gynaecological examinations
- Help with preconception planning
- Provide antenatal care
- Assist during labour and delivery
- Offer guidance with breastfeeding and other newborn care issues.
Although midwives are trained to provide medical assistance when necessary, they will not be able to perform interventions, such as forceps delivery and Caesarean sections.