What is a Midwife?

What is a midwife?

If you are wondering ‘what is a midwife?’, read this article to find out more about midwifery and the role of midwives in providing antenatal care.

The word ‘midwife’ means ‘with woman’, but what does a midwife do and what are their responsibilities? Midwives are specialists in normal pregnancy and birth, and their role is to look after a pregnant woman and her baby throughout a phase of antenatal care, during labour and birth, and for up to 28 days after the baby has been born.

The role of a midwife

Midwifery covers many aspects of support during pregnancy. As long as everything is normal in pregnancy, a midwife can generally provide all of your antenatal care. If complications arise, a midwife will refer you to a doctor who is trained to deal with special situations.
Within the NHS there are hospital and community midwives.

  • Hospital midwivesare midwives who are based in a hospital obstetric, or consultant unit, a birth centre or midwife led unit, and they staff the antenatal clinic, labour ward, and postnatal wards.
  • Community midwivesoften work in teams and provide a degree of continuity of care. In pregnancy they see you either at home or at a clinic. When you go into labour they are available for a home birth, or in a few places, they may come into the labour ward in the hospital to be with you. Once your baby is born, they’ll visit you at home for up to ten days afterwards. Community midwives also provide postnatal care for women who have been looked after during labour by hospital midwives.

There are also private independent midwives who work independently of the NHS and mainly work with women planning a home birthDoulas and birth companions are not midwives, but women who are trained to support you before, during and after your child is born.

What are independent midwives and how do they provide pregnancy care, support in birth and assistance in the early days? Discover their role and relationships with the NHS.

Independent midwives are midwives who have chosen to work outside the NHS in a self-employed capacity to provide pregnancy care. This article covers the following subjects regarding choosing a private midwife: where independent midwives workhow they operateissues to consider; andreceiving NHS care alongside private midwifery.

The legal role of a midwife encompasses the care of women and babies during pregnancybirth (and home birth) as well as the early weeks of motherhood. Usually one private midwife gives care to a woman and her family throughout a pregnancy. Having established a trusting relationship, the same independent midwife cares for the woman as she births her baby and supports the family afterwards.

Research has shown that many women want this type of midwifery and pregnancy care and that it helps women to cope with the challenges of labour and the transition to parenthood.

Where do independent midwives work?

The majority of births attended by independent midwives are home births, but they can also be present at planned hospital births. There are also a small number of independent midwifery services in the UK with their own birth centres.

How do independent midwives operate?

Independent midwives have more freedom to practise individualised care compared to those working within the NHS, who may be restricted by guidelines and protocols. Independent midwives are still regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. They are subject to the same supervision as NHS midwives, are required to keep up to date with their practice and are only allowed to act within their sphere of competence as midwives. There are currently approximately 150 independent midwives in the UK. They often work in partnerships or have close connections with other independent midwives, enabling them to provide seamless care to the women who use their services.

Independent midwives form relationships of trust with pregnant women, which then help women to feel safe and supported when they go into labour. Many independent midwives have become very experienced in areas of childbirth that within the NHS are usually dealt with by obstetric management. These include:

A independent midwife can be booked at any point during your pregnancy, up to 7 days before your estimated due date. Some will give free consultations to women who are considering all their birthing options.

Please watch the 20 minute video below about becoming a midwife