Midwives are trained medical professionals dedicated to assisting women through every stage of the birthing process, from labor to delivery and even post-birth care.
Despite incorrect perceptions suggesting they are an inferior version of an OB/GYN, midwives have become increasingly popular in recent years. As more people in the general public become aware of the practice of “midwifery,” there is a growing demand for more information about how these unique health professionals can help ensure healthy, successful births.
Let’s explore the history of midwives, the profession itself, and the incredibly beneficial role these medical professionals can play in the birthing process.
When Did Midwifery Begin?
In the United States alone, midwifery practice has existed for over 300 years, stretching back to 1716.
During this time, when many doctors were not formally trained in the process of childbirth, midwives played an essential role in protecting mothers and newborn babies from the severe threat of mother or infant mortality.
After nearly a century of high popularity, midwifery began to fall out of fashion in the United States in the 20th century. More mothers elected to give birth in hospitals, where modern anesthesia gained favor and popularity.
The diminishing use of midwives continued until the 1990s, when the American Medical Association instituted stricter training and regulation for midwives that greatly enhanced the occupation’s quality and effectiveness.
What Do Modern Midwives Do?
Today, the vast majority of midwives are highly trained in health care and specialize in assisting mothers and obstetricians in every aspect of the birthing process.
Depending on their specific level and type of education (as discussed below), midwives are responsible for several duties, including:
- Preconception education about nutrition, exercise, and medicine
- Conducting preliminary exams and arranging necessary tests at birthing centers
- Monitoring pregnant women in each stage of their pregnancy
- Hyper-focused care for mothers during labor and delivery
- Education and guidance in breastfeeding and other aspects of infant care
- Emotional and physical support before, during, and after pregnancy
How Many Kinds of Midwives Are There?
In general, there are three primary kinds of trained midwives. There are also “lay midwives,” who rely upon non-formal training for experience, but for the sake of this article, we will focus on the three primary kinds of certified midwives you have to choose from:
- Certified Nurse-Midwives: often the most sought after and highly-regarded variety; highly educated, registered nurses with a subsequent masters degree in midwifery and a certification from the American College of Nurse-Midwives
- Certified Midwives: non-registered nurses with an undergraduate degree and possibly graduate-level study in a health-related field; like CNMs, they are also certified by the American College of Nurse-Midwives
- Certified Professional Midwives: while not permitted to practice in all 50 states, CPMs are non-registered nurses with extensive training in midwifery leading to certification from the North American Registry of Midwives
How Are Midwives Different From Doctors?
A common area of confusion for many expecting mothers and their families is the distinction between midwives and doctors such as an OB-GYN.
The primary difference between these two groups of health professionals is the medical background from which they gain their insights and experience.
Many midwives rely on training and knowledge gained through bachelor/nursing/master degrees and years of experience in caring for mothers and babies in all childbirth process phases. While midwives in some states can prescribe medication or use advanced technology in their examinations, midwifery’s typical practice relies upon an innate understanding from years of observing and aiding hundreds or thousands of births.
Conversely, OB-GYNs have a broader and more varied range of skill sets and tools at their disposal that makes them more capable of tackling the difficulties of complicated births (such as those requiring C-sections or involving at-risk mothers).
With medical-school training in performing complex surgeries and a wide range of complicated procedures, OB-GYNs benefit from tools like forceps and vacuums (prohibited for midwives) and other benefits of delivering a child in a hospital. They can also freely prescribe medications to help prevent pain and infection or ensure the mother and baby’s optimal health.
How Does One Become A Midwife?
The process of becoming a midwife is highly dependent upon which of the three types you would like to be.
For Certified Nurse-Midwives, the path to accreditation involves acquiring a nursing degree and a subsequent graduate degree in midwifery. Once you receive these credentials and the training and experience that come with them, you will apply for certification by the American College of Nurse-Midwives. A standard midwifery exam must also be passed before you can practice professionally.
If you’re looking to become a Certified Midwife, the path is similar -- spare for the required nursing degree. In this case, you will need an undergraduate degree in a medical field supplemented by a heavy dose of courses, training, and experience in the childbirth process before certification. Certified Midwives also often have a master’s degree in midwifery as well. Once again, a standard midwifery exam must also be passed before you can practice professionally.
In the case of Certified Professional Midwives, the path is again similar, but there is no official requirement of an undergraduate degree in a health field. Instead, you must acquire education and clinical experience in childbirth that equips you with the knowledge and skill skillset from births both in and outside hospitals. As you might guess, you will also be required to pass a national midwifery exam before practicing.
What Are The Salaries and Career Paths For Midwives?
Once again, the salaries and career paths in the midwifery profession are fully reliant on which of the three paths you choose:
Recent data (collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018) shows that Certified-Nurse Midwives make an average of $105,030 annually. As you advance in the field, particularly in larger metro areas, this salary can often increase to as high as $160,000 per year.
For those accredited as Certified Professional Midwives, the median salary is around $93,000, with increases in experience and reputation leading to later-career salaries that exceed $100,000 per year. Once again, geography plays a huge role in your paycheck: CPMs in states like California and New York can make substantially more than those in Alabama, Mississippi, etc.
For Certified Midwives, there is less data available on average salary, but the majority of sources list an average salary of around $72,000 annually. Once again, this salary often increases as you gain experience and stature, with the top 10 percent of earners making more than $90,000 per year.
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Modamily provides information to guide you in reaching the ultimate pregnancy health and well-being, supporting you and your future family. Like midwives providing the ultimate care for pregnant women and new mothers, we are dedicated to offering you the essential information you need to ensure your baby is happy and healthy. For more information on midwives and other topics like adoption and surrogacy, please check out our other blog posts.