What is a Midwife?

The term midwife reflects a philosophy of care–one that is directed toward women and their individual reproductive needs. A midwife usually offers a variety of options and seeks to eliminate or minimize unnecessary interventions.  This philosophy is represented by the Midwives Model of Care.

Traditional Midwifery | Professional Midwives | International Definition of the Midwife | The Midwives Model of Care

The midwives model of care is based on the belief that pregnancy and birth are normal life processes. The midwives model of care includes:

  • Monitoring the physical, psychological, and social well-being of the mother throughout the childbearing cycle
  • Providing the mother with individualized education, counseling, and prenatal care, continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery, and postpartum support
  • Minimizing technological interventions
  • Identifying and referring women who require obstetrical attention

Traditional Midwifery

In the early 20th century U.S., there were three predominant forms of midwifery: granny midwifery, lay midwifery, and nurse-midwifery.

Granny midwives practicing in America in the early 1700s through the late 1800s tended to be African American, and not only functioned as birth attendants but also as their communities’ healers, had surpassed menopause or were currently menopausal, were based in rural communities, and also served in pivotal leadership positions (and for some religions) within their communities. Another distinction is that granny midwifery tended to primarily be an intergenerational occupation passed on in a matrilineal fashion.

The third form of midwifery, nurse-midwifery, emerged in the 1920s under the direction of Mary Breckenridge and involved formal training as a nurse and midwife (Lops, 1988: 405). It is important to note that the arrival of nurse-midwifery came on the heels of social persecution of lay midwives.

Professional Midwives

Certified Midwife (CM):

Certified Midwife (CM) is an individual educated in the discipline of midwifery, who possesses evidence of certification according to the requirements of the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM):

A Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM) is an individual educated in the two disciplines of nursing and midwifery, who possesses evidence of certification according to the requirements of the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Certified Professional Midwife (CPM): 

A Certified Professional Midwife is a knowledgeable, skilled and professional independent midwifery practitioner who has met the standards for certification set by the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) and is qualified to provide the midwifery model of care. The CPM is the only midwifery credential that requires knowledge about and experience in out-of-hospital settings.

Direct-Entry Midwife (DEM):

A direct-entry midwife is an independent practitioner educated in the discipline of midwifery through self-study, apprenticeship, a midwifery school, a college, or university-based program distinct from the discipline of nursing. A direct-entry midwife is trained to provide the Midwives Model of Care to healthy women and newborns throughout the childbearing cycle primarily in out-of-hospital settings. Licensed Midwives (LM) and Registered Midwives (RM) are examples of direct-entry midwives.

International Definition of the Midwife

(Updated and Endorsed by the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), June 2011)

A midwife is a person who has successfully completed a midwifery education programme that is duly recognized in the country where it is located and that is based on the ICM Essential Competencies for Basic Midwifery Practice and the framework of the ICM Global Standards for Midwifery Education; who has acquired the requisite qualifications to be registered and/or legally licensed to practice midwifery and use the title ‘midwife’; and who demonstrates competency in the practice of midwifery.

The midwife is recognized as a responsible and accountable professional who works in partnership with women to give the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, labour and the postpartum period, to conduct births on the midwife’s own responsibility and to provide care for the newborn and the infant. This care includes preventative measures, the promotion of normal birth, the detection of complications in mother and child, the accessing of medical care or other appropriate assistance and the carrying out of emergency measures. The midwife has an important task in health counselling and education for a women, her family and the community. This work should involve antenatal education and preparation for parenthood and may extend to women’s health, sexual or reproductive health and child care.

A midwife may practise in any setting including the home, community, hospitals, clinics or health units.(Adopted June 15, 2011, due for review 2017.)

The Midwives Model of Care

The Midwives Model of Care is based on the fact that pregnancy and birth are normal life processes.

The Midwives Model of Care includes:

  • Monitoring the physical, psychological, and social well-being of the mother throughout the childbearing cycle
  • Providing the mother with individualized education, counseling, and prenatal care, continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery, and postpartum support
  • Minimizing technological interventions
  • Identifying and referring women who require obstetrical attention

The application of this woman-centered model of care has been proven to reduce the incidence of birth injury, trauma, and cesarean section.
Copyright (c) 1996-2008, Midwifery Task Force, Inc., All Rights Reserved.