What is a Midwife?


A midwife is a person trained to assist woman in the labor and delivery of their babies. For centuries, women have relied solely on a midwife to bring their children into the world. Traditional views held that men should never attend childbirth. Upon the birth of the medical field known as obstetrics, midwifery began to take a back seat to the physicians referred to as obstetricians, but it is once again gaining in popularity.

Midwives are responsible for monitoring the development of a pregnancy and preparing a mother for delivery.
Midwives are responsible for monitoring the development of a pregnancy and preparing a mother for delivery.

Today, a midwife is usually at least a registered nurse, commonly referred to as a certified nurse midwife. With intense training and years of practical internship, a midwife can provide many of the same services to a pregnant woman that an obstetrician can. A midwife typically works closely with an obstetrician who oversees the pregnancy and is available in the event of any complications, such as the need for a Cesarean section.

A pregnant woman.
A pregnant woman.

A midwife ideally begins caring for an expectant mother as soon as a pregnancy is confirmed. Prenatal care given by a midwife includes physical examinations of the mother and baby, listening to the baby’s heartbeat, emotional support and anything else the patient may require. Some midwives are also authorized to write prescriptions. A midwife works with the pregnant mother all the way up to delivery of the baby and provides care for the mother postpartum.

A midwife, usually a woman, is seen as having an advantage over a doctor for many expectant mothers. Many women feel that another woman is better able to understand the changes of her body, as well as the emotions and concerns that accompany pregnancy. A midwife usually has more time to spend with her patients than a physician, which creates a more personal relationship and improves patient-caregiver communication. Because a midwife is also a nurse, she can often provide nursing type care that doctors normally do not provide.

Many midwives offer holistic care and promote natural childbirth. A midwife may deliver a child at the mother’s home, a birthing center or a hospital according to the patient’s wishes. A common misconception, however, is that a midwife only practices holistic care and natural childbirth. Today, midwives also willingly provide medicated pain relief and other medical interventions with their patient’s optimum well being in mind.

A midwife often works closely with an obstetrician.
A midwife often works closely with an obstetrician.

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Discussion Comments


I actually wound up having a C-section, but I really liked the midwife who was part of my OB's practice. (I had seen her for prenatal care and would have delivered with her if it had worked out.) The doc was nice, too, but when I saw him, it was a ten-minute visit, and when I saw the midwife, it was more like half an hour or forty-five minutes. She was just so down-to-earth, too. When I asked about delaying cutting the cord, she said that she always does that to keep the nurses from taking the baby away from mom. (They can't take the baby if he's still attached!)


I was present for a home birth that was attended by a direct entry midwife--a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). Nurse-midwives mostly deliver in hospitals and sometimes in freestanding birth centers (if you can find one), though there are a few who do home births. Most homebirths are attended by CPMs. The one I saw in action was great. They do not work under a doctor's supervision like nurse-midwives do, however, so they are definitely only appropriate for healthy moms and babies.


There are also Direct Entry Midwives.

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