Birth is one of the most miraculous, amazing, and transformative experiences in this thing we call life. Of course, it can also be pretty terrifying! In fact, many first-time moms don’t quite comprehend what they’ve got in store, which is why it pays to have a great midwife by their side. But what exactly does a midwife do? Read on to find out!
40. Midwives aren’t just for prenatal care and childbirth
Some women may think their midwife will be with them throughout their pregnancy and during the birth, but after that they’re on their own. This isn’t true at all, though — they’ll also visit you at home in your postpartum period. They can even be with you long term, handling complaints such as minor infections, giving you nutritional advice and if needed, helping you manage the menopause.
39. But they are not nurses
Whatever you do, don’t assume a midwife and a nurse are the same thing — they are very different roles. Midwives can give medication to mothers, and they do carry out some roles which were once the domain of doctors. But they do not deal with sick or injured people the way a nurse would.
38. Midwives and doulas are also not the same thing
Not only are midwives not the same as nurses, they’re also not the same as doulas either! Doulas are trained companions who provide support — both physical and emotional — to a mother before, during and after pregnancy. They aren’t medical staff, though, and can’t administer medication or deliver a baby the way a midwife can.
37. The feeling of responsibility can be a scary thing
According to Buzzfeed writer Hilary Mitchell, midwives she spoke to said the sense of responsibility in the job can be frightening. She described, “Suddenly realizing that you’re holding the life, health, and wellbeing of more than one person in your hands is daunting, and all the training in the world can’t take that feeling away completely.” Learning to work through this fear is truly a commendable thing.
36. They often go home with their hands covered in bruises
Childbirth is mega intense for mothers — they’re in a heightened emotional state, and it’s compounded by the excruciating pain they’re experiencing. It’s therefore perfectly understandable that if a midwife offers their hands for support, they’ll squeeze them for all they’re worth! It does lead to many midwives winding up with — completely unintentional — bruises on their hands and forearms, though.
35. Partners can sometimes be tricky for midwives to handle
Labor is an intense, stressful time for any couple — but sometimes partners can be such jerks that even the midwives get frustrated with them! Mitchell's sources lamented, “Taking selfies, wandering off, being bad-tempered, and, of course, playing Pokémon Go…Sometimes you want to tell the woman in labour that she’d probably be better off being a single parent. But of course, you don’t.” Ouch!
34. A midwife’s planner is round, not square
The pregnancy wheel is an essential tool for any midwife. It’s a handy circular planner that helps calculate a mom-to-be’s due date, without the need to log onto a computer, based on when she had her last period. It can also give you the date of conception, tell you when the woman will be ovulating, and even suggest when to take tests or go for ultrasounds.
33. A midwife will also not hesitate to throw anyone out of the delivery room
Midwife Dede Efueye gave prospective dads a warning on Heart Radio in 2018. She said, “Dads-to-be need to know the baby comes out blue and slippery, and that there is a bit of bleeding. If he’s not totally relaxed and at ease with what is going on, it can cause tension in the room and that can actually be dangerous for the birth.” Too much tension caused, and he could be thrown out!
32. There are no normal business hours for a midwife
As a midwife, you won’t get to experience the feeling of working a regular 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. You’ll work roughly the same number of hours as people in those jobs, but your shifts will likely include nights and weekends too. You’ll also be expected to be on-call 24 hours a day at certain times, too, and these unsociable hours can be very tiring.
31. They’re almost as good as personal trainers
Older generations may think pregnant women should always rest and take it easy, but that’s not always the case these days. In fact, midwives are trained to encourage certain amounts of physical activity in the expectant mothers they work with. Showing them how to do light exercise at home, such as Pilates or yoga, will have health benefits for the moms and babies in the long run.
30. Every midwife forms a special bond with their training doll
As part of every midwife’s training, they will be given a practice doll to work with. These vacant-eyed dolls are incredibly lifelike, but also slightly unnerving! Despite this, many midwives can’t help developing an attachment to their fake babies, who are with them all the way through their tough — but rewarding — journey to certification.
29. They don’t force mothers to breastfeed
Midwives tend to like the idea of mothers breastfeeding their babies — they’re trained that it’s best for the child, after all. While they do encourage breastfeeding, though, they will never force a woman into it if they’ve made an informed choice to bottle-feed instead. Their job is to support the mother, no matter which method she chooses.
28. Women are less likely to need a C-section if cared for by a midwife
As per website midwifeschooling.com, between 1996 and 2009, the number of C-sections in the U.S. rose by a staggering 60 percent. Many states — including California — have been enlisting the help of midwives to reduce these numbers in recent years, though, as studies have shown midwife continuity of care has a real effect. By January 2022 just 26 percent of births in California were by C-section — much lower than the national average of 32 percent.
27. Delivering babies never loses its “wow” factor
As per BuzzFeed’s Mitchell, while midwifing can be draining at times, the sense of wonder felt when you help deliver a new life into the world is an incredibly powerful thing. Think about it — you are the very first person to hold that new life in your hands. To most midwives, the feeling is simply magical, and it totally outweighs any of the negative aspects of the job.
26. They live for “the look”
The look new mothers get when they hold their babies for the first time is something every midwife lives for, according to those interviewed by Mitchell. It makes all the pain and stress go away, and even helps convince midwives to try for their own kids. The Buzzfeed writer notes midwives want to experience for themselves “the sheer joy and immediate love women feel when they first hold their baby.”
25. Midwives tend to be physically fit
Being a midwife is a strenuous gig. Think about it — you’re on your feet for hours on end, physically maneuvering patients around, all while constantly lifting, stretching, and walking. Heck, you’re also weighing babies all the time, so your arms are bound to get jacked! It’s certainly not a job for someone more at home vegging out on the couch.
24. If a partner is a total jerk, they will be told off by the midwife
Midwives know that, more often than not, a difficult partner is just feeling helpless. The midwife just happens to be the only person they can aim their frustrations at. But if a polite suggestion to step away for a few minutes to get a cup of coffee goes unheeded, then a midwife will let the partner know — in no uncertain terms — that their behavior won’t be tolerated.
23. Midwives think TV has made childbirth look more terrifying than it is
Many midwives think childbirth isn’t as scary as film and TV would lead you to believe. As trainee midwives Cydney Land and Ellie Thomas told the U.K.’s Birmingham City School of Midwifery and Nursing, “There’s always screaming, crying and sometimes copious amounts of blood. Our experience of births is quite different to that. It’s not uncommon for a woman to be focused on doing the job her body wants to do and just push through with relatively little fuss…”.
22. The fetoscope is every midwife’s most powerful tool
The fetoscope is a lo-fi way of monitoring a baby’s heartbeat, and it’s every midwife’s most powerful tool. Maria Chowdhury told Midwifery Today magazine, “it takes time, patience, and attentive listening.” She then added, “The acoustic sound of the baby’s heartbeat is more pure to its original nature. The fetoscope requires you to be more specific and helps to accurately determine position.”
21. They’ll get expectant mothers into positions they didn’t think they could achieve
If you think births always occur in a hospital bed with mothers on their backs, you couldn’t be more wrong! Some women give birth on their knees, facing away from their midwife, some give birth in pools, and some even give birth on the floor! And through it all, the midwife will contort themselves — and the mothers — into positions they never thought possible!
20. They can prescribe medication
Generally, a midwife tends to prefer to use medication as minimally as possible when working with a mother. But, in situations that truly call for it, they are licensed to prescribe a wide array of meds in accordance with their state’s laws. They can even schedule medical tests too! In the old days they would’ve had to refer the patient to a doctor for these things, but not any more.
19. You have to deliver 40 babies to qualify as a midwife
In the U.K. midwifery students are required to deliver 40 babies in order to gain their qualification. They must also work with 100 women during their pregnancy, and 100 women in their postpartum period. Added to that, they spend time with midwives in more specialist areas, such as working with bereaved moms or those who need protection.
18. Most babies are born at night
Birmingham student midwives Cydney and Ellie revealed, “Mammals instinctively give birth at night. In the hours of darkness, we produce more oxytocin which stimulates labor, and our stress hormones are lower.” They went on to explain how in birthing rooms lowering lighting levels was one of the ways they adapted the environment to make the soon-to-be-mom as comfortable as possible; her choice of music could often play a part in that process too.
17. They’ve seen plenty of moms poop – it’s no big deal
The thought of pooping in front of their midwife is horrifying for many prospective moms. It’s pointless to worry, though — midwives see all kinds of bodily fluids and poop is really no big deal. Having discussed the issue with various midwives, Mitchell wrote, “Some women worry and fixate on it to the extent they don’t push effectively, which can make labor last longer. In short, please just poo.”
16. Midwives know all kinds of ways to help with hemorrhoids and varicose veins
Hemorrhoids are one of the most common negative aspects of pregnancy. Thankfully, midwives will know exactly how to help their mothers deal with these uncomfortable swollen veins. From simple hot compresses to advice to elevate your legs and sleep on your side, to a variety of creams and salves to ease the pain, your midwife will have you covered.
15. Having babies themselves gives midwives extra respect for moms
In a 2019 essay published on the BBC Three website, an anonymous midwife revealed something fascinating. She wrote, “Now that I’ve become a mum myself, I certainly have a new respect for what women go through during pregnancy, childbirth and in raising their kids.” It seems when some midwives find out exactly what their clients go through during birth, it helps them empathize even more strongly.
14. Most insurance companies cover midwife services
According to the Reid Health website, most insurance companies in the U.S. are required by state law to cover midwifery services as part of their plans. Heck, Medicare includes board-certified nurse-midwives! Prospective mothers knowing they’re financially covered if they want to engage the services of a midwife can take a huge weight off their mind.
13. The busiest time for a midwife is the Autumn
According to Mitchell, midwives are always busiest in fall. Now, put on your detective hats — why do you think this is? If you answered, “Because everybody has time off over Christmas and New Year and parties too much and one thing leads to another,” you just cracked the case! Nine months later, that bill comes due!
12. They love having cuddles with the new-borns
Working around babies all the time does come with one significant perk — the cuddles! Mitchell summarized the views of the midwives she spoke to by writing, “We don’t often have time, mind you, but when a new mother offers you her baby for a bit of a smoosh, who can resist? Also, one of our favourite parts of the job is that unique ’new baby’ smell.”
11. Midwives get yelled at and threatened more than you’d think
As hard as it may be to believe, verbal and physical abuse is something midwives deal with regularly. For example, a 2018 survey conducted in New South Wales, Australia, found that four out of every five midwives surveyed had experienced abuse. Depressingly, 53 percent said they’d been pushed, kicked, or spat at by mothers and their partners/families.
10. There are a number of special roles that midwives can fulfil
Delivering babies is often just one part of a midwife’s job. Many are trained in ultrasound scanning and perform that task instead of a doctor, while others can specialize in the education of new midwives. Some perform research into new methods and practices, while others work primarily in administrative capacities, such as management, policy, and inspection.
9. Midwives are taught to suture certain wounds like a surgeon
Unfortunately, vaginal tears are more common than you might think during childbirth. Have no fear, though, because midwives are trained to deal with some of them. Of the four classes of tear, midwives can stitch up the first two, which mainly involve skin and muscle, and also administer pain relief. The third and fourth levels of damage need to be referred to a surgeon, though, as they’re more extensive.
8. Their shifts are long, as well as physically and emotionally draining
Midwives shifts are super-long — usually 9 to 12 hours — but they also often wind up staying after the shift finishes. This is because they have lots of time-consuming paperwork to file, and sometimes the only chance they get to fill it out is post-shift. Couple that with how physically and emotionally draining a shift can be, and they don’t have a lot left to give by the end.
7. To most midwives, the job is a calling
The majority of midwives see their job as something more than simply a way to make a wage. In 2006 Jan Tritten, creator of Midwifery Today, wrote, “My involvement with midwifery has been the very best life I could have.” She added, “I am overwhelmingly grateful for the life I have had in midwifery. I will dedicate the rest of my life to this calling.”
6. Midwives see mothers at their best and their worst
Over the course of a pregnancy, a midwife will see a mother-to-be at her very best — and her very worst. From elation to frustration, and from happiness to anger, they’ll see it all. This is why a very intense bond can be formed between them — the kind of bond you’d never expect to develop with someone who was a stranger less than a year previously!
5. A midwife can deliver the same result as an obstetrician in a low-risk pregnancy
Many expectant mothers go to their OB/GYN throughout their pregnancy, and this specialist doctor is who delivers their baby. Yet according to medical database the Cochrane Library, women experiencing low-risk pregnancies can get the exact same outcome using a midwife for their delivery instead. It’s nice to know there are other options out there if a mom wants to explore them.
4. There are male midwives out there
Contrary to what you may believe, there are male midwives out there — and they’re not known as “midhusbands.” It’s not exactly a popular thing for men to go into — in 2015/16 the U.K.’s National Health Service had 0.4 percent male midwives in the workforce — but they do exist. In fact, in recent years more and more men have been combatting the gender stereotype in the profession.
3. Their forceps were invented way back in the 1600s
Speaking of traditions, one of the tools used by midwives today was created way back in the 1600s. Forceps — which look like a pair of tongs — are used to help with a vaginal birth if the baby or mother is struggling. They’re not the first port of call they would’ve been at one point in time, though, as there are risks involved, so their use these days is comparatively rare.
2. At one time, midwives were thought to be witches
Midwifery is one of the world’s oldest professions — so old, in fact, that midwives are mentioned in the Bible! Over the centuries, the profession has moved with the times, but we reckon midwives of today will be glad they aren’t practising in the 16th/17th centuries. Why? Because if anything went wrong with a birth back then, they were liable to be labeled a witch!
1. The word “midwife” means “with woman”
Here’s a fun fact to end on — the word “midwife” comes from the medieval English words “mid” and “wif” and literally translates as “with woman.” Makes sense, right? A midwife is with a pregnant woman when she gives birth! In France, though, a midwife is called a “sage femme” which translates to “wise woman”: we think that’s a much cooler meaning!