What is a midwife?

Midwives aren’t just someone who delivers babies, they also play a vital role in the care of pregnant women. Of course, a midwife is there during labour to help the pregnant women in their care to safely deliver their babies, but they are also the main point of contact for a pregnant woman throughout their pregnancy and post-natal period too. They are there to help women make informed choices about their care, perform clinical examinations, provide education and support for women on both theirs and their baby’s health, and help them adjust to becoming a parent. Midwives will also work with health and social care services to ensure that the individual needs of each woman in their care is met.

What are the key responsibilities of a midwife?

Midwives operate in a number of different settings, including the maternity units of a large NHS hospital, stand-alone birth centres, in a pregnant woman’s home, private hospitals, and GP practices. They typically work shifts over seven days a week, including both day and night shifts, and they will also have on-call rotas.

The role of a midwife includes a wide range of responsibilities. In their day-to-day role, tasks could include:

  • Providing pregnant women with advice on issues such as healthy eating.
  • Explaining the options for giving birth depending on the pregnant woman’s circumstances.
  • Running antenatal and parenting classes.
  • Checking the health of both the mother and baby during pregnancy.
  • Monitoring the baby and progress during labour.
  • Providing pain relief and advising on methods of pain management.
  • Delivering the baby.
  • Calling the doctor if problems arise.
  • Visiting new parents to check on mother and baby, including the mother’s recovery after giving birth.
  • Offering advice to families on caring for their new baby.

Skills and qualities of a midwife

To succeed in your career as a midwife, you’ll need to possess or develop a number of skills and qualities. Communication and people skills are vital in a midwife’s career as you’ll need to communicate effectively and clearly with women during a time when they may be feeling scared or worried. You’ll also need to be able to work as part of a team, particularly when in the delivery room, as there is likely to be other midwives in the room, as well as consultants, doctors, and birthing partners. Other skills and qualities that are important for a career in midwifery include:

  • Knowledge of medicine and neonatal care.
  • Empathy, sensitivity, and understanding to help you deal with emotionally charged situations.
  • An understanding of psychology.
  • The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
  • Counselling skills, including active listening and the ability to take a non-judgemental approach.

How to become a midwife

There are two main routes to become a midwife in the UK, the first is studying a degree in midwifery, the second is an apprenticeship. These options are described in detail below.

University degree

When choosing a university degree, you will need to ensure that it is approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Typically, your degree will take around three years to complete if you study full-time, and you will also participate in work placements, allowing you to gain real-world experience of a career in midwifery.

To be accepted onto a midwifery degree, you’ll need to meet the following entry requirements:

  • Five GCSEs at grades 4 to 9 (A* to C), or equivalent, including maths, English, and science.
  • Two or three A Levels, including a science (preferably biology), OR a level 3 diploma, OR an Access to HE Diploma in Health, Science, or Nursing.
  • You can also study a midwifery degree is you already hold a degree in a relevant subject.

Apprenticeship

Midwifery degree apprenticeships have recently been made available, allowing apprenticeship students to gain a midwifery degree and become fully qualified midwives. The programme takes approximately four years to complete and involves a combination of workplace learning and academic study at an approved university. To secure your place on a midwifery apprenticeship, you’ll need four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), and A Levels or the equivalent.

Career progression

There are plenty of opportunities for career progression and development in midwifery. Once you’re a qualified midwife, you could choose to specialise in an area such as ultrasound or neonatal care. You will also need to renew your Nursing and Midwifery Council registration every three years to demonstrate that you are keeping your knowledge up to date.

As you gain more experience, you could progress to become a ward manager or a team leader. You could even train to become a health visitor or become a director of midwifery of a midwifery consultant. Alternatively, you could consider becoming a lecturer in midwifery at a university to develop the next generation of midwives or explore options in clinical research.

One thing is for sure, a career in midwifery is one of the most rewarding careers out there, meaning you’re bound to feel fulfilled and happy in your work.

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