Midwifery is one of the oldest professions in the world dating back to 40,000 BC. It’s incredible to think that midwives have been present since the birth of civilisation itself. This is made even more unbelievable when you consider that obstetricians, who are doctors trained specifically in pregnancy and birth, have only been around since the 1900s. Withstanding the test of time there are now close to 2 million midwives worldwide today. With approximately 140 million babies being born annually it’s certainly a profession that never slows down! Vital to the survival of humanity, midwifery is certainly one of the most rewarding careers you can come by. But what is a Midwife?
The term midwife translates to ‘with woman’ and at its essence is someone who assists with pregnancy and childbirth, however as we’ll explore, it means so much more. Did you know that having a midwife continuously care for you during your pregnancy, birth and postnatal period is linked with some incredible benefits?
1. They become a ‘professional friend' not only providing health care but also emotional and social support.
Midwives are highly capable of providing a range of care in your pregnancy, birth and postnatal period as well as consulting and referring if concerns or issues arise. In your pregnancy they can take your blood, test your urine, take your blood pressure, measure your baby’s growth as well as listen to baby’s heartbeat making sure you and baby remain safe. However, it’s what they do before and after all these assessments that makes having a midwife care for you so special. They are also there to sit down with you and ask about your day, how you're coping and to listen to any frustrations, concerns or questions you may have. They are there to offer you a tissue when things become too much as well as cheer you on from the side-lines in one the biggest journeys of your life! The trust and partnership that is created when a midwife cares for you is incredibly beneficial not just for your emotional wellbeing but also for your health as we’ll explore below.
What Mums Say:
‘Words are not enough to share my wonderful experience. Giving birth with such an amazing, positive, beautiful and great support system was so heavenly. I cannot put words to my feelings and cannot thank them (midwives) enough’.
2. They reduce your chance of medical interventions as well the likelihood of losing your baby.
With a midwife caring for you in pregnancy you are less likely to have to have medical interventions such as an episiotomy (a surgical cut typically made with scissors at the entrance of the vagina to aid with the birth of a baby) or instrumental birth (the use of surgical instruments such as forceps or a vacuum to aid in the birth of a baby). Studies show having a midwife continuously care for you in pregnancy can reduce these all by 15%! You are also less likely to have an epidural in labour which also reduces your chance of an episiotomy and instrumental birth. Not only this but you are 24% less likely to have a preterm birth (when a baby is born prior to 37 weeks) and 19% less likely to lose a baby in pregnancy overall. The power of having of feeing heard and supported in pregnancy is incredible!
3. They listen and lean to what you want from your birth and advocate for you to achieve that.
A midwife builds a relationship with you through your pregnancy so that when it comes time for your birth, they know exactly what you want and can advocate for your preferences. For example, if you don’t have any complications in your pregnancy you may want to labour spontaneously and maximise your chance of a vaginal birth. Continuous care provided by a midwife is also associated with a greater likelihood of having a spontaneous vaginal birth. Midwives help you achieve this by spending time with you to explain all your options, offer you risks and benefits of alternative choices and explain things to you in a meaningful and easy to understand way. They also encourage you when you feel don’t feel like you can do and reassure you when you feel scared.
What Mums Say:
‘From the get go I was made to feel empowered with every decision. Going into this pregnancy I was not confident in myself that I could have a natural, epidural free birth but I was constantly encouraged, educated and empowered that I could approach this birth in whatever way I wanted. My labour was quick and with the amazing help of the midwife I had a natural epidural free birth and couldn’t be more proud! I will be forever grateful for the support and patience’.
4. They provide many different strategies to help get you through labour as well as breastfeeding and caring for your newborn.
Midwives are trained to manage a variety of different situations when it comes to birth from the medical side of things such as putting in IVs, managing emergencies and monitoring you and your baby closely to the emotional side of things. This includes having skills and knowledge in alternative pain relief options such as breathing techniques, massage, acupressure and optimal positions. After a baby is born, they are also equipped to support you through the transition to becoming a parent with extensive experience and knowledge on breastfeeding and caring for your newborn. This includes settling techniques, help with the first bath and of course mastering the perfect swaddle! With a midwife’s continuous care, you have a higher chance of continuing breastfeeding at 6 weeks and 6 months if that is your preference, as well as a higher rate of maternal satisfaction with your care overall.
What Mums Say:
’A midwife made our first-time experience one we will never forget. The continued help and support after we brought bubba home was amazing. I would not have known what I’d do without her'
It is hoped that you now have a better understanding of what a midwife is, their role as well as the many benefits of being cared for once in your pregnancy, at your birth and in those important first weeks as a new parent. To access midwifery care in your area you can directly refer yourself by researching midwifery care near you, contacting local hospitals or birth centres as well as talking to your general practitioner who can refer you to one.
‘Of all life choices, none is more important to society, none has more far-reaching consequences, none represents a more complete blending of social, biological and emotional forces than bringing another life into the world’ (Shearman Report, 1989)