What Do Midwives Do?

Your midwife is there to support you throughout your pregnancy, making sure both you and your baby are safe and healthy from the day you find out you’re pregnant to the first days after your little one is born. A midwife is also there to help you and your family with health counselling, antenatal education, and with helping you prepare for parenthood. Topics like women’s health, sexual or reproductive health, and child care may also be covered. You’ll find midwives practising in any setting, including the home, the community, hospitals, clinics or other health units. Read on to learn more about the kinds of situations in which you can turn to your midwife, what training she or he has, and the different types of midwives there are.

What Is a Midwife?

Your midwife is there to provide support during your pregnancy, labour, childbirth, and in those first few days or weeks after your baby is born. The roles and responsibilities of midwives typically include:

  • Providing full antenatal care, including parenting classes, clinical examinations and screenings. Your midwife will typically help you plan and schedule all of your antenatal appointments too.

  • Giving you information about how to maintain a healthy pregnancy (including advice on diet and exercise), how your baby is developing, and what maternity benefits are available to you.

  • Asking you about any support you may need from other members of the multi-professional team such as obstetricians, health visitors, dieticians and social workers.

  • Helping identify pregnancies that may pose more of a risk or be more complex e.g. twin pregnancies.

  • Helping you work on your birth plan, if you’re having one.

  • Providing you with emotional support and answering many of the questions you have.

  • Monitoring and supporting you during labour and birth; discussing your options and choices based on what is appropriate and available to you.

  • Teaching you how to feed, care for and bathe your baby.

What Is the Role of a Midwife in Comparison to a Doctor?

If your pregnancy is progressing normally, your midwife can provide all of your antenatal care, and can also be by your side during labour and birth. Midwives are available 24 hours a day, and your midwife has the skills to provide you with emotional and psychological support. Should you have any questions or concerns, your midwife can provide reassurance or refer you to the skills and knowledge of other professionals. Because midwives undertake a lot of hands-on practice during their education and gain a lot of experience over the course of their career, they amass a lot of valuable knowledge that makes them experts on childbirth.

A midwife is not a doctor, so there are instances when you may need to see a doctor who specialises in caring for women in maternity, called an obstetrician. For low-risk mothers, midwives will handle most of the care and will usually facilitate the birth if there are no complications. An obstetrician, on the other hand, will undertake around 35% of births, usually for more complex cases, such as a c-section, or if the baby becomes distressed during labour.

An obstetrician will also work alongside the midwife if complications arise before or after the birth of your baby.

What Is a Doula, a Health Visitor and a Birth Partner?

You may have heard of a doula, health visitor and birth partner, but how are they different to a midwife?

  • Some women choose to hire a doula, who can offer emotional, physical, and practical support during labour and after the baby is born. A doula is an optional addition to your birth team, and not a substitute for your midwife. Although a doula has received special training, she is not a medical professional.

  • Your health visitor is a qualified nurse or midwive who helps, educates and supports you and your family until your child turns five. You may meet your health visitor before your baby is born, or a few days after birth.

  • The role of your birth partner is just to be with you and support you through the birth. Your birth partner can be anyone you’re close to and rely on for their moral support, like your partner, your best friend, your mum or your sister.

At What Point Should I Find a Midwife?

It’s best to see a midwife as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. You can either go to your GP, who can put you in touch with a midwife or a midwifery service, or you can book your first appointment with a midwife directly. Your midwife will become your main point of contact when it comes to antenatal care from the first trimester onwards.

Appointments with your midwife may take place at home, at a GP’s surgery, at the hospital or at a children’s centre. Tests and scans will usually take place at a hospital.

What Training Does a Midwife Have?

Midwifery is a regulated profession. Midwives must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), and must have an approved NMC midwifery degree. These degrees usually take at least three years to complete, unless the midwife is a qualified nurse, in which case they may do a shortened midwifery programme. Student midwives must spend a minimum of half of the programme in clinical practice, working directly with pregnant women, their families, and newborns in hospital, at birth centres and at the homes of mums or mums-to-be.

Midwifery programmes prepare students to practise safely and effectively so that by the time they register with the NMC, they can assume full responsibility and accountability for their work as midwives.

The training doesn’t end there: Midwives will continue their professional and personal development throughout their career, which includes learning and developing new skills and knowledge.

Can Men Be Midwives?

Yes. Although traditionally midwives were women, today you’ll also find male midwives working in the UK. Whether you have a female or a male midwife, you will get safe and competent care. What’s important is that you have a good relationship with your midwife because you’re putting faith in them at a time when you’re feeling nervous and vulnerable. It’s important that you feel listened to and respected, that your midwife is responsive to your questions and concerns, and that he or she understands the emotional, physical and psychological aspects of your pregnancy.

Are There Different Types of Midwives?

Within the NHS system there are

  • Hospital midwives who are part of the hospital’s maternity team, caring for you while you’re in hospital, whether this is while you’re pregnant, during labour, when you give birth, or immediately after your baby is born

  • Community midwives who provide care in GP practices, in your home or at children’s centres. Community midwives are more likely to work with you throughout your pregnancy, from your first appointment until care is taken over by a health visitor.

More and more, midwives work both in the community and in hospitals so mums-to-be have continuity of care. Ask your midwife how they work and whether they will be present at the hospital on the day your little one is born. It may also depend on your hospital’s policies as some hospitals have their own midwives to support you during your time in hospital.

Outside the NHS system there are independent midwives who typically work with mums-to-be who are planning a home birth.

In some cases, you may prefer or need a specialist midwife who has additional training and experience in areas such as

  • diabetes

  • antenatal and newborn screening

  • twins and multiples

  • teen pregnancy

  • infant feeding.

Your midwife is an important part of your maternity team, working hard to make sure both you and your baby are healthy. Your midwife is there for you during your pregnancy journey and in that moment when you first meet your little one. Remember to #ThankYouMidwife, whether it’s on the big day, over the course of your pregnancy, or even on the International Day of the Midwife on the 5th of May!


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