A midwife looks after the health of mother and baby during, before and after pregnancy.
Midwives are an essential part of the birthing process, as a woman needs all the support she can get at what is possibly the most important and challenging moment in an entire family’s life. Midwives provide the practical, medical and human knowledge to deliver babies safely into the world. They also carry out check-ups on the mother and baby’s health before and after pregnancy.
Midwifery can be split into 3 areas which are taken care of in 3 separate clinics:
- Antenatal: care of the unborn child still in the womb.
- Delivery: care of mother and baby during the actual birthing process.
- Postnatal: care after the baby has been born, in the early weeks of life.
Salary for midwives on the NHS is tightly stratified by length of service and experience.
- Midwives on the NHS start on around £20,000 per annum depending on location.
- An experienced midwife can earn up to £50,000 per annum.
- Midwife consultants can earn in excess of £60,000 per annum.
In their day to day role, midwives would carry out the following tasks:
- Dispensing antenatal advice on eating and lifestyle.
- Performing antenatal check-ups.
- Explaining the process of giving birth, controlling breathing, contractions, warning signs etc.
- Checking on the position of the baby during childbirth.
- Administering pain relief to the mother where necessary.
- Liaising with the doctor over any developing complications.
- Performing minor surgery and inserting stitches afterwards.
- Delivering the baby.
- Checking on the health of mother and baby in the first few weeks after birth. Giving advice and checking on their routine.
To work as a midwife you need to study for a specialised degree in Midwifery, one that is approved by the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council). To gain entry to such a degree you would need a minimum of 5 GCSEs, usually including Science and English.
A degree in midwifery is 50% practical experience, working under supervision and takes places in hospitals, clinics and the community. Midwifery degrees take either 3 or 4 years. The good news is that student Midwives are funded by a non-repayable means-tested bursary and tuition fees are normally paid for you.
Working as a midwife requires a unique set of personal skills and attributes:
- Good mental and physical endurance.
- Empathetic, caring nature.
- Ability to inspire calm in difficult situations.
- Ability to work in a small team but also to be self-reliant when working alone.
- Superb communications skills.
- Ability to get on well with people from various backgrounds and walks of life.
Midwives usually work in a clinical setting, be that within a hospital maternity ward, community birthing centre, or private clinic. Sometimes midwives may work in clients’ homes, where a home birth has been agreed upon. In extreme situations a midwife can be called to work wherever the birth is taking place.
Hours conform to the NHS standard of 37.5 hours per week, usually on a shift basis. In the NHS midwifes are rotated between the three different areas of midwifery every six months or so and for each period they confine their activities to that particular setting.
Prolonged labours taking in excess of 12 hours are common and while it may not be a single midwife with the same mother the entire time, the job is extremely demanding. Physical and emotional endurance are a prerequisite along with a calm and patient manner; midwives will be left feeling tired after a week’s work.
The profession is very much a female dominated one. However, male midwives, although very rare, are becoming more common.
A degree in midwifery is composed of 50% practical study so midwives gain all the experience they need while at university. To gain experience of working as a Midwife prior to this, you can volunteer to work as an assistant in a hospital clinic. Contact your local NHS trust’s voluntary work department for more information.
The NHS is the single largest employer of midwives in the UK. After some years of experience in the NHS you may be able to find work in a private hospital or clinic.
It is very common for qualified nurses to move into midwifery. To this end there are special conversion courses that take just 18 months of study, rather than the 3 years direct access degrees.
Experienced midwives may go on to be sisters in charge of a single ward. Consultant midwives are at the top end of the pay scale in the NHS and it is their job to consult with policy makers to refine the working practices of midwives across the NHS. They also spend a good portion of their times still working as midwives so that they never lose touch with the practical side of midwifery.
Also known as…
What’s it really like?
Charlotte Mills, 31, works as a midwife in a private clinic in London.
Can you tell me how long you have been working as a midwife?
Since 1995 if you include my training, so about 15 years. Training took 3 years, and consisted of a degree in midwifery.
What did you do before this job?
I was studying, flunking Naval Architecture at university, by just having too much of a good time like many students. My friend was working at a neo-natal unit and she showed me around one day. That’s when I first though about becoming a midwife.
Can you describe for us the typical day of a midwife?
I work on a small private unit. We do everything from antenatal and labour, through to post-natal. In most cases, when working in the NHS you will be assigned to just one of these. As we are a small unit and do all three I might be looking after someone who has just had a baby, someone going into labour or I might be running check-ups – measuring blood pressure, abdominal palpitations etc.
What do you like most about working as a midwife?
It’s a really important time in families’ lives. I feel quite strongly about making the birth experience a positive thing. Where I work I’m really privileged as we get to know our patients, we can work with them, and their partners to prepare them – it makes a huge difference. Being a midwife on the NHS (I was for four years) is a very different experience – not enough midwifes, too many pregnant women. In an NHS ante-natal clinic you have a 15 minute time slot, whereas I have 30.
Having said all that, at least the situation here is not as bad as in the US where the obstetricians have completely got their way. In the US there are basically no midwives, giving birth must conform to a doctor’s schedule and if the baby doesn’t arrive on time it is extracted by caesarean. Surgery is a dangerous procedure that should be reserved for emergencies and its overuse is the reason for the US’s abnormal spike in infant mortalities when set against their level of development and healthcare. Sadly a lot of countries follow the US’s example; they tried to do it here too but British women protested and didn’t allow it to happen. That’s another thing to be proud of and a reason I like my job.
What do you dislike about your job as a midwife?
It is very emotionally draining and can leave you feeling very tired, especially working five days on the trot.
Have you any advice to give to someone thinking about becoming a midwife?
They could gain experience by being a maternity assistant or volunteering on a maternity ward. In the UK we have ‘Doulers’ who are there to support women in labour but don’t have medical qualifications; they offer emotional support, give massages and things like that.
Where do you think you may go next in terms of career progression?
One of the real problems of midwifery is that there is not much career progression. You can be promoted to be a sister who is charge of an entire ward but unless you want to go into management or training then that’s it. As for me, I’m hoping to do some ‘’Medicin Sans Frontiers’’ work overseas in the not so distant future.
Have you any other inside information you could offer to potential midwives?
Make absolutely sure that you want to be a midwife as the training is very hard once you start.
Do you mind us publishing your salary?
At my current level I earn £40,000 a year. It would be the same if I had continued working in the NHS.