Midwifery is a healthcare profession which developed from ancient times. It can, in fact, be said to have developed from the first time man became civilized enough to know the delicate nature of the organs and process of reproduction in the woman. That was when, consequently, the practice of traditional birth attendant developed, even if in its crudest form and process.
Over the ages, it grew as one of the most essential professions in the broad gamut of healthcare delivery, with its practitioners becoming specialists in the reproductive health of women in the safest obtainable clinical process. Both male and female practitioners of midwifery are known as midwives. The etymology of midwife is mid = with and wif = woman. Midwives offer antenatal care to expecting mothers and attend the birth of the infants. They also provide postpartum care to the mother and the newborn child.
According to the International Confederation of Midwives’ definition, ‘’a midwife is a person who, having been regularly admitted to a midwifery educational programme that is duly recognized in the country in which it is located, has successfully completed the prescribed course of studies in midwifery and has acquired the requisite qualifications to be registered and/or legally licensed to practice midwifery. The educational programme may be an apprenticeship, a formal university programme, or a combination of both.’’
This definition is, however, not a universally accepted one among health experts, organizations and stakeholders on healthcare. For example, while the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics are said to have adopted in their policies and programmes, many health experts observe its deficiency, arguing that it is not such all-encompassing as to cover the traditional birth attendants who assist women in childbirth in majority of traditional settings the world over, but especially in the developing countries, since the olden times.
Very conscious of the delicate and essential nature of their profession, midwives work with pregnant women to give them the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, labour and the postpartum period. They conduct births and provide comprehensive healthcare for the newborn child, covering preventive measures with regard to neonate aliments, promoting normal birth, detection of complications in mother and child, accessing of medical or other appropriate assistance and the carrying out of emergency measures.
Due to the nature and process of the profession which quite comprehensively involves them in antenatal education and preparing the expectant mothers, especially covering the delicate period of childbirth and weaning, for motherhood, and also their sufficient knowledge of women’s health, sexual or reproductive health and childcare, midwives easily practice in many settings from the home to all grades of healthcare delivery institutions.
Perhaps more than all other healthcare practitioners, midwives discharge the responsibility of counseling and educating the women, the family and the entire community on efficient healthcare. They, indeed, seem to be the most potent tools for community healthcare with regard to the very delicate part of the mother and her child. Due to their specialty, they not only help women maintain a healthy pregnancy and natural birth, they also provide general healthcare to the woman more than every other healthcare practitioner.
It is pertinent to note that midwives are, however, by law, not the know-all with regard to the pregnant woman, especially when it comes to the actual process of childbirth. They share knowledge and duty in this process with obstetricians. While the midwife is to recognize and deal with deviations from the norm, the obstetrician specializes in illness related to childbearing and in surgery. The obstetrician is trained to ‘’actively manage’’ labour, while the midwife is trained to intervene only when it is necessary for him or her to do so. The midwife and the obstetrician work together in many settings to provide healthcare to the childbearing mother. In other settings however, only the midwife is handy for this purpose. The midwife is taught to use non-invasive techniques to handle abnormal situations such as breech birth and posterior position.
As earlier mentioned, midwifery practice started from the time man became civilized enough to know the delicate nature of the reproductive system in the woman and the process of childbearing among the human race, but no date is in any record with regard to when it started.