Midwifery - History

Defining midwifery

According to the International Confederation of Midwives (a definition that has also been adopted by the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics):

A midwife is a person who, having been regularly admitted to a midwifery educational program 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 program may be an apprenticeship, a formal university program, or a combination. The midwife is recognized as a responsible and accountable professional who works in partnership with women to give the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period, to conduct births on the midwife's own 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 of medical or other appropriate assistance and the carrying out of emergency measures. The midwife has an important task in health counseling and education, not only for the woman, but also within the family and community. This work should involve antenatal education and preparation for parenthood and may extend to women's health, sexual or reproductive health and childcare. A midwife may practice in any setting including in the home, the community, hospitals, clinics or health units.

This definition is controversial and not everyone agrees with the exclusion of traditional midwives who in developing countries often are the only people available to assist women in birth.

Early Historical Perspective

Due to its importance it is assumed that midwifery has existed as long as human civilization.

Later Historical Perspective

In the 18th century, a division between surgeons and midwives arose, as medical men began to assert that their modern scientific processes were better for mothers and infants than the folk-medical midwives. Whether this was a valid claim or not can be seen in the entry for Justine Siegemund, a renowned seventeenth century German midwife, whose Court Midwife (1690) was the first female-authored German medical text.

Modern Midwifery

Midwifery in the United States

There are two main divisions of modern midwifery in the United States: nurse-midwives and direct-entry midwives.