What is a midwife?
Midwife means “with woman”. To midwives and their clients, pregnancy and birth are normal, healthy life events. Midwifery promotes normal childbirth and the prevention of health problems. In 1994, midwifery became an integrated part of the Ontario healthcare system and is provided free of charge to residents of the province. Midwives provide care in both the hospital and home setting.
A midwife is a primary caregiver, which means that she can provide all the care necessary for a healthy woman and her baby throughout pregnancy, birth and for six weeks afterward. Midwives refer women and babies to family doctors or specialist doctors like obstetricians and pediatricians if the care becomes complicated. Even if care is transferred to a doctor at the birth, midwives may remain involved in the care as a support to the mother and baby. As primary caregivers, midwives do the following:
- care for healthy, pregnant women and their babies
- see women for all prenatal visits and give prenatal education
- order laboratory and ultrasound testing if needed
- arrange for consultations with or transfers to doctors if needed
- give some medications during pregnancy, labour, birth and the postpartum (after birth) period if needed
- take responsibility for primary care during labour, birth and postpartum including delivering the baby
- examine the newborn and care for mothers and babies for six weeks after the birth
You do not need a referral from a physician to use midwifery services; you can call a midwife directly. However, it is best to call as early in pregnancy as possible to ensure that your midwife has space for you. There are currently over 400 midwives registered with the College of Midwives of Ontario.
Midwifery Care and Breastfeeding Success
Choosing a supportive maternity care provider is an important step towards breastfeeding success. Midwifery as a profession is philosophically supportive of breastfeeding. Midwives receive a great deal of training specific to breastfeeding management. Longer prenatal visits facilitate breastfeeding education and the opportunity to have individual questions and concerns addressed. Midwife attended births encourage close and continuous contact between mother and baby immediately after birth that helps get breastfeeding off to a good start. Midwifery clients often have fewer medical interventions during labour and birth which often leads to fewer breastfeeding challenges. Midwives are available to their clients by phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 6 weeks postpartum. Midwives also visit their clients at home and in the hospital for several days following the birth to ensure that breastfeeding is going well.