Our guide to midwifery
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Our guide to midwifery

First published date November 28 2013 Amended date November 28 2013

Helping bring new life into the world comes with great joy. But because a new life is at stake, the job of a midwife can be challenging. So if you're a calm, caring person who would like to support families at a time of need, think about taking a course in midwifery. And bear in mind, a midwife may have helped you a great deal more than you remember!

Midwives care for women during pregnancy, labour and while the newborn baby is young. And, guys, don't suddenly jump ship: midwife is a term used for both men and women.

If you are concerned about making a difference, well-trained midwives enormously reduce the risk of dying during childbirth. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that about 800 women, and more than 8000 newborns, die every day due to largely preventable complications during pregnancy. Many of these lives would be saved if every birth were attended by a midwife. According to the WHO, more than one third of all births take place without a midwife. So, both in the UK and globally, midwives are in high demand!


Where could a midwifery course lead?

On completion of a course in midwifery you might choose to support women in the community, providing services in local clinics, children's centres or GP surgeries. Or you might prefer to work in a hospital, helping on prenatal, labour and postnatal wards.

On the other hand, you might decide not to work as a midwife at all. You could embark on a completely different career in education, research or science communication. The skills you gain on a midwifery course are highly transferable.


What do you do on a midwifery course?

To become a midwife you must complete a midwifery degree course at university. Once you have completed the degree, you will be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), enabling you to practice as a midwife. The midwifery diploma has been phased out.

The midwifery degree course, which is only provided by universities, lasts three years. Half of the degree course is based at university on lectures, seminars and tutorials. The other half of the course consists of supervised practical placements, which take place in the community and hospital such as prenatal, labour and postnatal wards. By the end of the course you will have an in-depth understanding of foetal and child development.

If you are a qualified nurse and would like to become a midwife you can complete an extra course called a midwifery short programme. This is a 78-week full-time course. On completion you will be registered as a midwife with the NMC and permitted to work as a midwife.

If you are a certified midwife there is a range of courses you can take to progress your career. You might consider becoming a consultant midwife. Consultant midwives are responsible for research, education, training and development. They are very experienced - and are usually the highest paid midwives!


What kind of person do I need to be?

Having a love of babies is a good start. But it's by no means the only thing that makes you suited to a course in midwifery. Remember, your main role will be monitoring the unborn baby and the expectant mother. If you want to have more contact with babies, you might consider a role as a maternity support worker, neonatal nurse or healthcare assistant.


To make the most of a midwifery course you must be:

·         prepared to study anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology and nutrition.

·         responsible, understanding and caring because midwives work with a huge diversity of people during some of the most emotionally intense periods of their lives.

·         a good communicator and leader to work well as part of a team liaising with GPs, health visitors, social workers and parents.

·         be calm and alert during emotionally charged situations, encouraging women to feel confident and in control.


Let's hear what some real life midwives say about their job

Rachel Cox, a labour midwife at Southmead Hospital, told the NHS, ‘I cried at the first birth I attended. I don't do that any more but the emotional impact is still there every time. As in any job there are pressures and days when things don't go right, but I'm doing a job I love. To be where I am now and have this positive feeling about my job, I'm a very lucky person. The last intake to diploma programmes in midwifery in England was 2008.’


Melvin Wilkinson was a business studies student, but is now a labour ward manager at a hospital in south London. ‘To be a midwife, you need to have a friendly, gentle approach, be mindful of individual women's needs and respect their cultures,’ he told the NHS. ‘I am very open when I approach patients, and have delivered patients from different religions and cultures. If a woman prefers a female midwife, then that's fine and her choice must be respected. During my career, on a few occasions, I've been in a labour ward where women have requested to be attended by male practitioners only. On one occasion my being there encouraged a partner to stay and witness his child being born.’


By Nick Kennedy

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