The term midwife is derived from Middle English: midwyf, literally "with-woman", i.e. "the woman with (the mother at birth), the woman assisting" (in Middle English and Old English, mid = "with", wīf = "woman").
- 1: the art or act of assisting at childbirth; also : obstetrics
- 2: the art, act, or process of producing, bringing forth, or bringing about
According to the International Confederation of Midwives (a definition that has also been adopted by the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics):
A midwife is a person who, having been regularly admitted to a midwifery educational program that is duly recognized in the country in which it is located, has successfully completed the prescribed course of studies in midwifery and has acquired the requisite qualifications to be registered and/or legally licensed to practice midwifery.
Midwifery is a health care profession in which providers offer care to childbearing women during pregnancy, labour and birth, and during the postpartum period. They also help care for the newborn and assist the mother with breastfeeding.
A practitioner of midwifery is known as a midwife, a term used in reference to both women and men, although the majority of midwives are female. In addition to providing care to women during pregnancy and birth, many midwives also provide primary care to women, well-woman care related to reproductive health, annual gynecological exams, family planning, and menopausal care.
In the term midwife, the morpheme -wife is pronounced as expected, but midwifery is normally pronounced /mɪdˈwɪfᵊri/ (mid-WIF-(ə)ree).
Midwives are specialists in low-risk pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, although they are trained to recognize and deal with deviations from the norm as well as certain high risk situations. Obstetricians, in contrast, are specialists in illness related to childbearing and in surgery. The two professions can be complementary, but may be at odds in some countries, where obstetricians are taught to "actively manage" labor, while midwives are taught not to intervene unless necessary. Most midwives are familiar with the process of physiological management and the use of gravity in aiding the process of labor.
Midwives refer women to general practitioners or obstetricians when a pregnant woman requires care beyond the midwives' area of expertise. In many parts of the world, these professions work together to provide care to childbearing women. In others, only the midwife is available to provide care. Midwives are trained to handle certain more difficult deliveries, including breech births, twin births and births where the baby is in a posterior position, using non-invasive techniques.
For low risk births, compared with obstetricians, midwives offer lower maternity care cost, lower intervention rates, reduced mortality and morbidity as a result of fewer interventions, and fewer recovery complications.