5 Surprising Facts About Midwives

5 Surprising Facts About Midwives
5 Surprising Facts About Midwives. Image source: Unsplash

If you’re pregnant and expecting your first child, you’ll probably be looking at options for your baby’s birth. If you’d like to have a natural birth, using the services of a midwife can be a wonderful support to both you and your baby. The practice of midwifery centres on the idea that your body is perfectly capable of going through the pregnancy and birth process – so midwives focus on the normality of pregnancy and births that are low risk. In South Africa there are many birthing centres and hospitals that support midwifery-led care, but there are still often questions about the specific role that a midwife plays. If you’re considering using one, here are five things to know about them:


  1. It’s one of the oldest professions on earth

Since the beginning of time, women have supported other women in pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum, and this knowledge was passed from one generation to the next. In today’s modern era, midwives are recognised as highly trained and specialised professionals who provide this kind of support and assistance in low-risk pregnancies. Surprisingly, modern midwifery has its origins in South Africa: the world’s first officially registered nurse-midwife was Sister Louisa Jane Barrett, who received her training in Kimberley in the Northern Cape in 1891.


  1. They can help with much more than the birth

Many people think that midwives are only present for the birth, but they are actually there to provide support throughout your pregnancy and during your transition to motherhood:

  • During pregnancy: A midwife will meet with you during your pregnancy to check things like how the baby is growing, as well as your blood pressure and iron levels.
  • At the birth: During the birth, midwives will often work alongside a supporting Doula to help mom-to-be (and spouse) achieve their desired birth plan.
  • Postnatal care: After the birth, midwives provide the new mother and baby with post-natal care including breastfeeding advice, baby wellness check-ups and women wellness check-ups including pap smears and family planning.


  1. Midwives can work in different settings

While midwives work in both public and private hospitals in South Africa, private midwives may have their own practice on separate premises. If you belong to a medical aid scheme in South Africa, many of them cover midwifery services as part of their birth benefits. Fedhealth, for example, covers four consultations both in and out of hospital per pregnancy as part of their maternity benefits on most of their options. With a private midwife, you can generally choose to give birth in the following settings:

  • At a hospital: Some private hospitals in South Africa have active birthing units that allow midwives to work there. In other cases, midwives will be present at the public or private hospital to assist with the birth.
  • At a private birthing centre: Some facilities, such as Genesis Maternity Clinic in Johannesburg, specialise in natural birth and are fully equipped for everything relating to natural birth and its possible complications. If a caesarean section becomes necessary, the mother-to-be would be transferred to a hospital.
  • In your own home. Before hospitals and birthing centres, women gave birth at home, and many women who have opted for a home birth report that it is a wonderful experience. With a midwife present, you get the comfort and privacy of giving birth in your own home while having a trained professional on hand to support you.


  1. Midwives are qualified and registered

The field of midwifery falls under South Africa’s Nursing Act of 2005 and is regulated by the South African Nursing Council (SANC). Becoming a midwife in South Africa takes four years of study: one must first obtain a basic nursing degree followed by an advanced diploma in midwifery. Both these qualifications are offered at several tertiary institutions around South Africa, including UCT and UNISA. Once midwives are trained and qualified, they are registered with the SANC.


  1. There’s a place for both midwives and obstetricians

The biggest difference between a midwife and an obstetrician is that midwives work with low-risk pregnancies and births, whereas obstetricians can work with those that are high risk. While a midwife’s main focus is on a healthy and natural birth, they also recognise that things don’t always go according to plan. In these situations,

a midwife can work together with the obstetrician to avoid or manage any complications. If necessary, a doctor will be able to take over and perform a caesarean section birth.

Opting for a midwife-assisted birth can be a wonderful way of tapping into knowledge that has been passed down over many generations of women. Whether you opt to use a midwife at home, in a birthing centre or in a hospital, having a woman on hand who is experienced in the field of natural birth specifically can be a huge support in your transition to motherhood.