What is a Midwife?

A midwife is a healthcare professional who provides safe, effective, hands-on pregnancy and childbirth care.

Midwife pregnant woman art

Midwives attend about 70 percent of all births in the world’s industrialized countries. When midwives are valued as a critical part of the maternity care system, low maternal and infant mortality and morbidity follow.

In the United States, midwives attend less than 10 percent of births. But the demand for midwifery services is growing. Today, 32 states license Certified Professional Midwives and many more allow practice without regulation. In some states, midwives are still working to gain the legal rights of other medical professionals. They’re also working to have collaborative relationships with doctors and hospitals so they can safely practice.

Midwives form nurturing, trusting relationships with the people they work with. They lend pregnant people confidence, wisdom and the space to give birth in their own way surrounded by the people they love.

Midwives provide personalized care so people feel heard and included in their own care.

Midwives aim for birth experiences that trade technology for hands-on help during labor and delivery and postpartum care. If a pregnant person needs obstetrical care, midwives refer them to that care.

The profession isn’t for the faint of heart. It is for people who are dedicated to the ideas of pregnant people deciding what type of birth they want, of natural birth, of home birth, and of caring for a pregnant person as a whole person.

What does a midwife do?

We train midwives in the Midwives Model of Care©, which defines pregnancy and birth as normal life events. Under this definition, a midwife:

  • Provides comprehensive natal care for pregnant people through the pregnancy, birth and up to 6 weeks postpartum.
  • Helps pregnant people determine their ideal birth.
  • Guides births at homes, freestanding birth centers and sometimes in a hospital, addressing complications and providing care for newborns.
  • Minimizes technological interventions in childbirth.
  • Counsels clients on subjects like nutrition, emotional well being, sex, breastfeeding and parenting.
  • Provides well-woman care for non-pregnant people.

Are there different types of midwives?

There are two types of certified midwives: Certified Professional Midwives, Certified Nurse Midwives.

Birthwise Midwifery School trains midwives to be Certified Professional Midwives.

CPMs are trained in well-woman care, pregnancy care, care during labor, and postpartum care based on standards set by the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council, and they are certified through an exam by the North American Registry of Midwives.

CPMs are called direct-entry midwives. This means they did not necessarily go to nursing school before becoming a midwife.

  • Some CPMs have nursing degrees or other bachelor’s degrees, but many do not.
  • Some come from a healthcare background, but many do not.
  • Some were doulas — birthing assistants — who sought more formal training. Birthwise requires students to take doula training before classes start.
  • Some sought formal education and credential after being a midwife in a state that didn’t require it.

Other midwives are nurses who have the credential of Certified Nurse Midwife. They have special training in maternity, obstetrics and new baby care from a credentialed nursing school.

What are good qualities to have to be a midwife?

Midwives are:

Willing to get their hands dirty — literally. Midwives are exposed to blood, urine, feces, vaginal secretions and amniotic fluid on a regular basis.

Calm under pressure. Midwives must sometimes respond urgently to a life-or-death situation.

Great with interpersonal skills. Midwives counsel their patients on a wide variety of topics, including sensitive ones like sex and emotional wellbeing.

Patient. It takes hours, sometimes days to bring life into this world the natural way.

Professional. Midwives abstain from drugs and alcohol while on call. They also may deal with physicians who have negative views of midwifery.

Flexible. Midwives often work long, unpredictable hours that interfere with other obligations. Ideal midwives have flexibility to embrace the midwife lifestyle.

Self-motivated and independent. Midwives often run their own practices, and being a self-starter is important for the business side of midwifery.