Here's How To Start A Career As A Midwife

Midwives offer gentle, compassionate, skilled care to people in some of their most vulnerable moments of strength and beauty: when they're bringing new life into the world. From pregnancy to postpartum, many mothers are endlessly grateful for the depth and quality of care offered by their midwives, whether they birth at home, in a birthing center, or at a hospital. A mother is more likely to experience a smooth and peaceful birth if she feels safe and at-ease (via National Library of Medicine) and a knowledgeable professional, such as a midwife, can assist her in doing just that.

Generally, midwives steer clear of invasive procedures in childbirth (via Indeed), but they will also know when a mother needs medical intervention to safely birth her baby. The midwife is there for the family before and after the birth, providing an intimate and caring bond. If you're considering a career in midwifery, there are several important steps to help you get there.

Visualize your career as a midwife

If you're wondering how to start a career as a midwife, chances are you've done some daydreaming about what your work life will look like. Maybe you feel a special pull to care for newborn babies or love the idea of being the one to help a parent accomplish one of the most powerful feats: childbirth. The term midwife translates to "with women" and that's just what your role entails (via University of Plymouth). You'll be with these parents on one of the most important days of their lives. If that sounds like a dream to you, then you're likely on the right track.

Another element worth a lot of consideration is the schedule you'll have as a midwife. According to Natural Healers, you should ask yourself these questions: Can you imagine living on call? Do you function well on little sleep? Are you okay with potentially missing holidays and birthdays because a mother has gone into labor? And then, of course, there is the pressure of being responsible for the life of the mother and the baby. Not everyone could manage that intensity, but some are born for it.

Ask yourself if you have what it takes

As with most high pressure jobs, it takes a certain personality to navigate the terrain. Midwifery requires compassion, the ability to stay calm during intense situations, and resilience. It's also essential that the midwife be knowledgable, safe, competent, and respectful (via Woman and Birth). An underlying sense of passion for birth, babies, and postpartum care are qualities most aspiring midwives possess. So, if you're drawn to midwifery care, you likely have a natural propensity for some of these skills.

Being a midwife also requires a trust in the natural process of birth and in the mother's body. While complications can arise which require intervention, most of the time birth is normal and the midwife has an innate understanding in the wisdom of the birthing process (via Natural Healers). As your clients' guiding light, you'll be there to reassure them that what they're experiencing is normal, and how to know when it's not. For instance, if your client is more exhausted in pregnancy than what is typically expected, you'll know just what to look for. You'll spend time checking vitals, taking notes, and monitoring the fetal heartbeat during labor, all while quietly knowing you could be called to another birth directly after the one you're at. The work day of a midwife is a beautiful, challenging, miraculous rush. With, of course, a lot of time spent patiently waiting for labor to progress. 

Absorb as much as you can about natural childbirth

Once you've decided on the path of the midwife, you'll become a human sponge for all things pregnancy, birth, labor, and postpartum care. You undoubtedly already read as much as you can on the topic, but now is the time to kick it up a notch. While you'll be loaded up with text during your education and training, you can take a deeper dive now with some recommended reading for any aspiring midwife. According to Electric Lit, "Spiritual Midwifery" by famous home birth midwife Ina May Gaskin is a must for midwives, or for anyone interested in holistic midwifery and Gaskin's revolutionary approach. She also penned "Birth Matters" and "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth," which should both be in a midwife's library.

Volunteering is another excellent jumpstart to a career in midwifery. Whether it's at a clinic, a center for women, or even as emotional support at a friend or family member's labor, placing yourself in the realm of birth anyway you can is a wise choice (via American College of Nurse Midwives).

Research the different types of midwifery

When imagining your day as a midwife, it's important to consider what type of environment you feel you'd be most suited for and how much education and training you're ready to tackle. According to Indeed, there are four types of midwives: certified nurse-midwife (CNM), certified midwife (CM), certified professional midwife (CPM), and direct-entry midwife (DEM). Here's what these credentials require.

Certified nurse-midwives have a Bachelor of Science in nursing, as well as a master's degree in midwifery. Your day as a CNM will typically take place inside the walls of a hospital and while this route requires the most intensive training, you'll reap the rewards. To become a certified midwife, you won't need a master's degree, but you will need a Bachelor's Degree in nursing and a certification from the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Certified professional midwives meet the requirements of the North American Registry of Midwives. These are the midwives who typically assist mothers birthing in birth centers or in the comfort of their own homes. The other midwives you'll see working in out-of-hospital settings are direct-entry midwives. They're independent birth workers who have typically trained through apprenticeship.

The majority of midwives in the U.S. are CNMs (via Natural Healers), but whichever path you choose, your work will affect the landscape of birth in the most intimate of settings.

Choose your ideal work environment

Mothers who choose to birth with a midwife are shown to experience higher levels of satisfaction with their labor and delivery (via Cochrane Library). As a midwife, you'll provide mothers and babies with holistic care throughout pregnancy and birth, tending to their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. And it's important that you take into account your unique disposition and personality when considering your daily work environment so that you can best serve others.

Do you prefer a lot of structure and predictability in your work environment? Or do you crave flexibility and variety? Would you prefer to support mothers in the comfort of their homes, or does a hospital setting provide you with an added sense of security? If avoiding drugs during birth is important to you, perhaps homebirth midwifery care is right for you. Or maybe a private birth center sounds like just the right balance (via Natural Healers). There are many avenues for midwives to take and with the growing demand for woman-centered midwifery care, you'll be needed wherever you go.

Apply for programs, apprenticeships, and licensure

Once you've determined which type of midwife you want to be, you'll do the research of selecting and applying to the right educational program. Whether you're diving in to earn a Master's of Science in Nursing or working side by side with a midwife through apprenticeship, the hours of dedication and focus really begin here. Licensing and certification will vary from state to state, but it won't be long before mothers and babies can enjoy the benefits of your hard work.

"I'm licensed by the same medical board that licenses doctors," Sara Howard, a Los Angeles-based midwife, told Vogue. "I carry a doppler to listen to the baby's heartbeat in labor, medications to stop bleeding after birth, oxygen, suturing equipment, IVs and antibiotics, and more. I'm certified in neonatal resuscitation and infant CPR, as well as trained in advanced fetal monitoring ... In the best case scenario a midwife is just there to remind the birthing person of their own strength and to help ensure the birthing person feels safe enough to do what only they can do — birth their baby." 

This type of personalized care is an irreplaceable gift to any family. Whether you're working in a hospital or a client's living room as a midwife, welcoming babies is a beautiful and much needed profession.