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What is Midwifery?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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A midwife is a medical care-giver who attends women throughout pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. An ancient and vital profession, records of midwives date back to ancient civilizations, where they were honored and respected professionals tasked with safely bringing new life into the world. Today, midwives are frequently certified professionals, though not necessarily medical doctors. Often, midwives work in concert with licensed obstetricians to safely guide a mother and baby through pregnancy and birth.

The history of midwifery is one fraught with periods of suspicion and almost mystical reverence. As those who could safely bring children into the world and keep women alive through childbirth, some ancient cultures, such as those in Greece and Egypt, honored them and considered them reliable, necessary professionals. Unfortunately, the mysteries of birth practices also lead to the occasional accusation of witchcraft or sorcery, and some historical records suggest that midwives were sometimes the victims of witch hunts throughout the world.

In modern culture, midwifery can be practiced by a male or female, and usually includes some form of medical training in order to legally practice. Some midwives are also licensed nurses that choose to specialize in the particular area of pregnancy and birth. Others achieve certification through training programs or apprenticeships geared precisely toward creating midwifery practitioners. Many countries, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and several European nations, offer different forms of certification for midwifery dependent on the type of training received. Some certifications consider hospital training a requisite, but not all licensing programs insist on official medical education.

Care given by a midwife may vary based on training and certification levels. The goal of a midwife is to safely guide pregnant women and their babies through the entire process of pregnancy and birth, including postpartum care. Some women prefer to work with midwives because of the focus on individual care. Midwifery has also long been associated with the promotion of natural remedies and complementary medicine, making many practitioners less inclined to use drug therapy, invasive procedures, or unnecessary use of medical technology. Many midwives will assist in home births, for women that do not want to go into a hospital, or provide facilities for birth that are focused on the comfort and care of women in labor and their babies.

Midwives are best able to provide care for uncomplicated pregnancies where health risks are minimal. If health is an issue, consider finding a midwife that regularly works with an obstetrician. By finding a midwife-doctor team, a pregnant woman can receive both the personalized care of midwifery and the advanced medical services provided by a trained obstetrician. For those seeking complementary care with an emphasis on personal attention, a midwife may serve as a wonderful companion and adviser throughout pregnancy.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
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Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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