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 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 autonomous practitioners who are specialists in low-risk pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. They generally strive to help women to have a healthy pregnancy and natural birth experience. Midwives are trained to recognize and deal with deviations from the normal. Obstetricians, in contrast, are specialists in illness related to childbearing and in surgery. The two professions can be complementary, but often are at odds because 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 jurisdictions, 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.
Not only do midwives give the option for a natural birth, they offer lower maternity care cost, reduced mortality and morbidity related to cesarean and other interventions, lower intervention rates, and fewer recovery complications.