Midwifery is a health care profession in which providers offer care to childbearing women during pregnancy, labour and birth, and during the postpartum period. They also help care for the newborn and assist the mother with breastfeeding.
A practitioner of midwifery is known as a midwife, a term used in reference to both women and men, although the majority of midwives are female. In addition to providing care to women during pregnancy and birth, many midwives also provide primary care to women, well-woman care related to reproductive health, annual gynecological exams, family planning, and menopausal care.
In the term midwife, the morpheme -wife is pronounced as expected (/waɪf/), but midwifery is normally pronounced /mɪdˈwɪf(ə)ri/ (mid-wif-(ə)ree).
Midwives are specialists in low-risk pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, although they are trained to recognize and deal with deviations from the normal. Obstetricians, in contrast, are specialists in illness related to childbearing and in surgery. The two professions can be complementary, but may be at odds in some countries, where obstetricians are taught to "actively manage" labor, while midwives are taught not to intervene unless necessary.
Midwives refer women to general practitioners or obstetricians when a pregnant woman requires care beyond the midwives' area of expertise. In many parts of the world, these professions work together to provide care to childbearing women. In others, only the midwife is available to provide care. Midwives are trained to handle certain more difficult deliveries, including breech births, twin births and births where the baby is in a posterior position, using non-invasive techniques.
Compared with obstetricians, midwives offer lower maternity care cost, and midwife-led births are associated with lower intervention rates, reduced mortality and morbidity related to interventions, and fewer recovery complications, though this is largely due to the fact that they work with women who have low-risk pregnancies compare to obstetricians, not because there are lower risks to midwife deliveries.