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Long before there were hospitals, women gave birth at home, often with the help of trusted women who were known throughout the community for their knowledge and skill when it came to childbirth. Today, these women, known as midwives, have become an important alternative to hospitals, busy doctors, and pain killers. Unlike the midwives who were working a century ago, today's midwives are educated, with university degrees and midwifery certificates. They are respected by obstetricians, and often work alongside them in hospitals and birthing centers as well as helping women give birth in their own homes.

Midwives operate with the philosophy that if a women has had an uncomplicated pregnancy, there is no reason she shouldn't be able to have her baby spontaneously, without complications. Midwives allow pregnancies and labor to happen as naturally as possible, with little interference from drugs or machines. Studies are continually showing that births using midwifery are safe options, especially now that midwives are so thoroughly trained.

Because they meet with their patients throughout their pregnancies, (as well as into the early weeks of the child's life), midwives are trained to notice if there are any problems developing during the pregnancy, and refer them to other health care practitioners should need be. Midwives can deal with simple complications during the birth, but in case of an emergency, will take their patients to a hospital.

As well as being in charge of monitoring the mother, a midwife must also see to the baby right after it's born. This means a midwife needs a lot of stamina--labor can take over a day, and the midwife must be attentive for the whole process, as well as afterwards, when it comes to caring for the newborn.

A midwife must also be prepared to work her schedule around her patients' pregnancies--she can't plan a trip for the same weekend if a baby is due.
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Northcentral University
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  Interests and Skills  
Being a midwife is a hard job. It requires you to be able to think on your feet, able to squat, bend over, or stand for long periods of time. You must be able to endure blood, and live through the pain of each mother you assist. You have to be organized, clear headed, and ready for anything, at anytime--a baby won't wait until after the movie, or until you've had a good night's sleep. You must have a sound knowledge of medicine, anatomy, and the female reproductive system--so an interest in science is essential. As well you must be sensitive, compassionate, and genuinely devoted to natural childbirth.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Give Pap smears and do lab tests during the pregnancy
  • Give advice on diet, exercise and what effects environment or behavior might have on the unborn baby
  • Identify potentially abnormal conditions during pregnancy and advise clients about alternative care options
  • Monitor the mother and baby during the labor
  • Guide the birthing process
  • Examine and care for newborn infants,
  • Meet with the mother and her family during the weeks following birth
  • Educate clients about breastfeeding, infant care, and newborn growth and development,
  • Maintain health records and write reports
  • A midwife must act as a doctor, a nurse, a friend, a psychologist, a nanny, and a partner to the expectant mother. The field is certainly never dull, with many challenges and hurdles which may be faced and conquered. A midwife must work in various locations, more often than not in other families' homes. The hours are unpredictable, and the relationships with clients are intimate and intense.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Midwives work in a variety of places. They generally have an office, or may have work at a clinic with other midwives. However, the births can take place at the homes of their clients, hospitals, birthing centers, or hotels. Midwives are on call 24 hours a day; and may work long, unpredictable hours. They have to lift, bend, and kneel for long stretches of time. They also need reliable vehicles available at all times.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Midwives can do more than deliver babies and advise mothers and families. They can start out employed by a clinic, or on a hospital staff, but might choose to open a private practice once they have gained enough experience. Midwives may choose to conduct classes on pregnancy and childbirth, as well as on family planning and other related topics. They can also write books and articles on their expertise.

  Educational Paths  
The requirements for midwives depends on where you live. Generally, a prospective midwife will require a nursing degree or diploma, which might be obtained at the university of college level, and a period of supervised practical training, in order to be admitted into a recognized midwifery program. Some midwifery programs accept applicants without nursing degrees, but look for science or health backgrounds.
Different regions have different education and licensing requirements, so it is best to check the information on your area to see what it is you'll need to do.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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