Midwives are autonomous practitioners who are specialists in low-risk pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. They generally strive to help women to have a healthy pregnancy and natural birth experience. Midwives are trained to recognise and deal with deviations from the normal. Obstetricians, in contrast, are specialists in illness related to childbearing and in surgery. The two professions can be complementary but often are at odds because obstetricians are taught to “actively manage” labour, while midwives are taught only to intervene when necessary.
Midwives refer women to general practitioners or obstetricians when a pregnant woman requires care beyond the midwives’ scope of practice; however, in many cases, these professions can work together to provide care to childbearing women. Midwives are trained to handle certain situations that may be described as normal variations or may even be considered abnormal, births where the baby is in a posterior position, does not move down into the pelvis well or where the woman is particularly fearful of giving birth.
The midwife is recognised 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 responsibility and to provide care for the infant. This care includes preventive measures, the promotion of normal birth, the detection of complications in mother and child, accessing medical or other appropriate assistance and the carrying out of emergency measures.
The midwife has an important task in health counselling and education, not only for the woman but also within the family and community.