A midwife is a specialist in pregnancy and birth, appointed by pregnant women to provide care and support before, during, and after the birthing process. Their care typically begins in the antenatal period, and they’ll usually remain in contact with the expectant mother until after labour, sometimes providing ongoing support in the following weeks.
Midwives are only trained to support mothers experiencing a ‘normal’ pregnancy, the name given to a pregnancy where no complications arise. They are generally not trained to deliver sophisticated medical care, and in the case of complications, will usually defer to a medical doctor or other suitably qualified professional.
There are a range of different types of midwives, with the differences boiling down to their level of training and their form of employment. However, they will all generally be well-trained in their duties, experienced, and capable of providing valuable support to pregnant women throughout the antenatal period, birth, and postnatal period.
The role of a midwife
‘So, what does a midwife do?’, you might be asking yourself. The truth is that their role is relatively broad, which means it’s difficult to define. Midwives in general, and private midwives in particular, will tend to tailor their support to the woman they’re working with. Typically, though, they will take on duties including:
Prenatal appointments for routine pregnancy monitoring and detection of complications
Ultrasound imaging sessions and prenatal blood work
Providing parenting education to prepare the parents-to-be
Delivering information to help support a healthy pregnancy, including nutritional and exercise advice
Helping to smooth communication between expectant parents and other medical professionals
Working on a birth plan with the mother-to-be
Providing ongoing emotional and mental support
Providing support during labour and birth
Supporting the new parents during the postnatal period
Are midwives qualified?
Conventionally, to become a midwife in the UK, you must have a degree in midwifery which takes three years to complete. However, existing registered nurses can complete a shorter course, typically 18 months in length, to qualify. These courses typically involve mixed forms of learning, from formal education about the different facets of maternity care in the UK to practical placements in community or hospital settings.
That means all midwives are qualified with at least 18 months of education under their belt, and experience applying their skills in the field. They’re also required by law to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) before being permitted to practice as a midwife.
Types of midwives
As mentioned, midwives can apply themselves in different capacities, from working with the NHS as a hospital midwife to being an independent self-employed private midwife. These are the four most common types of midwife in the UK:
Private midwife – Private midwives are fully qualified and registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, just like their NHS counterparts. However, instead of working in the public sector, they instead provide their services on an independent basis or through a private sector employer.
Hospital midwife – Hospital midwives are midwives, typically employed by the NHS, who are based in a hospital. They can work across a variety of wards, including antenatal clinics, labour wards, and postnatal wards.
Community midwife – Community midwives tend not to provide their support in a hospital setting, instead providing care in the community. This can mean working with parents-to-be at their home or in a community clinic. They often work as a part of a larger team.
Student midwife – Student midwives are midwives-in-training, providing support alongside qualified midwives while on placement during their studies.
Contrary to relatively popular belief, doulas and birth companions are not midwives, due to the fact they’re not required to be qualified or registered with the NMC.
Do I need a midwife?
Nobody can tell you with any certainty whether you need a midwife – it’s a personal choice. However, there are some considerations which might be able to help you to decide. Potential reasons you may want to appoint a midwife include:
It’s your first pregnancy, and you’re worried about a lack of support
You want a close contact throughout your pregnancy to provide information
You have a broader team of medical professionals involved, and want somebody to be able to help manage them
You’re unsure about your birth plans, and want a second, educated opinion
You’re planning on appointing postnatal care, and would rather it was consistent with antenatal care
How to choose a midwife
If you feel like a midwife would benefit you, your next decision is whether to use an NHS midwife or appoint a private one. They perform highly similar roles, with the private option tending to be a little more tailored, and there will be no functional difference in their training or qualification level. Which one you go for really depends on personal preference – whether you’d like to pay for a more personalised level of care.
You can browse private midwives in your area using My Health Assistant, and contact them directly through our platform. If you’re looking to find a midwife that suits you perfectly, start searching today.