Midwifery is defined as the practice of assisting in childbirth. Midwives were the predominant medical oversight for deliveries for centuries, and midwifery has returned in recent years as a more formal institution.
In the ancient civilisations of the West, midwives were women with some medical training. By the Middle Ages, though, midwives basically used the knowledge acquired through their own experience to assist in deliveries. In the 16th century, childbirth was placed squarely in the realm of physicians for the first time.
Midwives of today work in hospitals, homes and birthing centres and have different programs for training and certification.
Today's midwives are generally divided into three categories. Certified nurse midwives complete a program through the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) and have a prior degree in nursing. Licensed or certified midwives learn through school, apprenticeship and independent study and are tested and accredited by the Midwives' Alliance of North America (MANA). Direct-entry midwives train informally but do not seek certification.
Reasons to Choose a Midwife
Many women choose to have a midwife assist with their delivery because of the individualised care provided by midwives and the respect that midwives are known to have for the birthing process.
In the United States, there are between 3,000 and 4,000 direct-entry midwives and about 3,500 certified nurse midwives. There are 120,000 more midwives in Europe than in the United States; midwives in Europe attend to 75 per cent of births as opposed to 5 per cent in the United States.