Midwifery is a popular healthcare career in many countries. In the US, midwives can work independently or in a hospital setting, depending on state regulations. As trained professionals, they provide certain pregnancy, childbirth, and neonatal services, especially for patients opting for holistic birth.
Let’s look closely at how to become a midwife and whether this career suits you.
What Is a Midwife?
A midwife is a healthcare professional specializing in providing care to women during pregnancy and childbirth. They aim to assist women in achieving a safe, healthy, and positive childbirth experience by providing personalized care that considers the unique needs and preferences of each individual.
In many underserved countries offering midwifery internships, pre-med midwifery students, certified midwives, and even those holding master’s or doctoral degrees gain valuable hands-on exposure and practical skills from shadowing and working alongside mentors in community clinics.
However, a midwife’s role is not limited to child delivery. Midwives counsel on reproductive health and can monitor the progress of the infant’s and the mother’s condition. Moreover, they can assist in postpartum care, offering support to mothers in their recovery, addressing emotional needs, and assisting with nurturing the newborn.
Is Midwifery Still Relevant?
To those who want to be a certified midwife (CM) or a certified nurse-midwife (CNM), the good news is that there is no shortage of jobs! The US currently has approximately 40,000 midwives. Between 2016 and 2026, the demand for midwives is projected to increase by 12.5%.
While the extent to which midwives can legally practice patient care in the US varies significantly from state to state, research demonstrates that states or birth facilities with greater midwife participation experience fewer cesarean sections and reduced maternal-newborn complications. These findings highlight the invaluable contribution of midwives in enhancing maternal care.
The vital role of midwives in maternal care is also recognized worldwide. In the UK, midwives attended the deliveries of Kate Middleton, emphasizing their significance in high-profile births. Similarly, in other European countries, midwives are the primary caregivers for uncomplicated deliveries, while obstetricians handle high-risk cases.
Education and Training
Pursuing a career in midwifery requires individuals to complete a specific educational and training path, as well as obtain certification.
1. Bachelor's Degree
A relevant bachelor’s degree is necessary for a strong foundation in midwifery education and practice. Here are some bachelor’s courses that can serve as beneficial backgrounds:
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): Many midwifery programs in the US are designed for registered nurses (RNs). A BSN program provides a comprehensive background in healthcare, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and patient care. Upon obtaining an RN license, you can proceed to complete a nurse-midwifery program, which qualifies you to pursue a CNM designation.
- Bachelor’s in Public Health: A background in public health offers insights into community health, health disparities, and health education. This knowledge can be beneficial for midwives who often work in community settings and engage in public health initiatives related to maternal and child health.
- Bachelor’s in Biology or Human Biology: These programs provide a solid foundation in the life sciences. Understanding human anatomy, physiology, genetics, and developmental biology is crucial for midwives since they guide women through pregnancy and childbirth.
- Bachelor’s in Psychology: Midwives often play a supportive and counseling role. A background in psychology can aid in understanding mothers’ emotional and mental states during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum.
2. Accredited Midwifery Program
Once the foundational education is completed, the aspirant must take the next step and enroll in an accredited midwifery program. These programs, accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME), provide specialized training on childbirth, postpartum care, neonatal care, and women’s reproductive health.
Upon completing their education, prospective midwives undertake hands-on clinical training to gain practical experience in the field. Some aspirants also undertake midwifery internships in underserved areas to enhance their clinical skills and better understand diverse healthcare systems.
After completing their training and education, they must pass the national certification exams administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) to become a bona fide CNM or CM.
Once certified, a midwife can begin practicing but must adhere to the scope of practice defined by the state where they operate. To maintain their certification, they must engage in continuous professional learning and recertify through the AMCB every five years.
Over time, experienced midwives can pursue advanced roles such as leadership positions in healthcare organizations, educators in midwifery programs, or even maternal and newborn health researchers.
Limits of Practice
In the US, CMs can only practice in certain states, including New York and the District of Columbia. On the other hand, a CNM can practice in all states. The scope of practice can also vary from one state to another, making it important to research state-specific regulations carefully to help you decide which track to take. Furthermore, while some states grant midwives full practice authority, others require them to work under the supervision of a physician.
While the path to becoming a midwife can be challenging, requiring substantial commitment to education and professional growth, the immense rewards of this career extend far beyond personal satisfaction. As a midwife, you have the opportunity to provide exceptional care and support during the transformative experience of childbirth, playing a pivotal role in women’s lives.
So, if you’re passionate about women’s health and the incredible journey of childbirth, perhaps a career as a midwife is the perfect fit for you.