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A midwife visits a pregnant woman at homeA midwife is a medical professional—but not a doctor (physician)—who gives support, care and advice to women during their pregnancy, labour and the postpartum period (at least the first six weeks after childbirth). In some countries, midwifery is a branch of nursing; in others, it is considered an entirely separate profession. Most midwives are women, but a very small percentage are men. A midwife also provides health counselling and education, not only for the woman, but also for the family and the community.

A baby girl, just two minutes old, with a midwife in the delivery room at a hospital

A midwife's role

During pregnancy, the midwife monitors the baby's health, growth and position. When labour begins, she offers the mother pain relief, encouragement and emotional support, while monitoring the baby’s heartbeat and other signs. The midwife assists with the birth of the baby. In high-risk situations such as a breech birth (when a baby is born bottom first instead of head first) or if there are complications, she will call in an obstetrician, a doctor who specializes in pregnancy and childbirth.

The word midwife comes from the Old English: mid, meaning "with", and wif, meaning "woman". It thus originally meant "with-woman"—the person who is with the mother at childbirth. The word is used to refer to all midwives regardless of whether they are a woman or a man.

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