A calm, caring nature, and the ability to communicate well and put others at ease, are essential attributes for a midwife

Midwives provide advice, care and support for women and their babies during pregnancy, labour and the early postnatal period. You'll help women to make their own decisions about the care and services they access and will provide health education and parenting advice until care is transferred to a health visitor.

You're personally responsible for the health of both mother and child and will only refer to obstetricians if there are medical complications. Work is carried out in multidisciplinary teams in both hospital and, increasingly, community healthcare settings.

Responsibilities

As a midwife, you'll need to:

  • monitor and examine women during pregnancy
  • develop, assess and evaluate individual programmes of care
  • provide full antenatal care, including screening tests in the hospital, community and the home
  • identify high risk pregnancies and make referrals to doctors and other medical specialists
  • arrange and provide parenting and health education
  • provide counselling and advice before and after screening and tests
  • offer support and advice following events such as miscarriage, termination, stillbirth, neonatal abnormality and neonatal death
  • supervise and assist mothers in labour, monitoring the condition of the foetus and applying knowledge of drugs and pain management
  • give support and advice on the daily care of the baby, including breastfeeding, bathing and making up feeds
  • liaise with agencies and other health and social care professionals to ensure continuity of care
  • participate in the training and supervision of junior colleagues.

Salary

  • Midwives working for the NHS are paid according to a fixed payscale, known as Agenda for Change. Salaries for newly qualified midwives are set at Band 5, which starts at £23,023.
  • You can then progress to Band 6, which ranges from £28,050 to £36,644.
  • Salaries at Band 7, where you'll be working at a more senior level, e.g. managing a team, are in the region of £33,222 to £43,041.
  • One of the highest paid positions in nursing is as a nurse consultant where salaries start on Band 8a, which ranges from £42,414 to £49,969.
  • Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours typically include unsocial hours. The working week is usually 37.5 hours and is likely to include day and night shifts. Community and independent midwives are regularly on call across 24 hours and you should expect to be part of an on-call rota at some point in your career.

Many midwives prefer to work part time. Self employment or working freelance is sometimes possible and you can choose to work in independent practice, which could offer more opportunities for continuity of care. Career breaks may be available.

What to expect

  • You can work in maternity units of large hospitals, smaller stand-alone maternity units, private maternity hospitals, group practices, birth centres, general practices and in the community.
  • There is a very high percentage of women in the profession.
  • Jobs are available in all parts of the UK, but specialist roles may be focused in particular areas.
  • The work can be physically and mentally demanding, and involves exposure to sensitive situations such as bereavement and domestic abuse.
  • You may have to travel to patients' homes or attend births during the day or night, but overnight absences from home and overseas travel are unlikely.

Qualifications

To practice as a midwife in the UK, you must be registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). You'll need to have completed an approved pre-registration midwifery programme to do this, which lasts three years full time. Half of the course is spent studying at university, while the other half is based around practical placements to provide you with hands-on experience.

Part-time courses are available to those who are working in a relevant role and usually take five to six years. If you're already a qualified nurse, you can take a midwifery short programme, which allows you to qualify sooner than the three-year course.

You can search for all types of midwifery degrees at Health Careers: Course Finder.

Acceptance on to a course is subject to satisfactory health clearance and a disclosure and barring service (DBS) check. Having a criminal conviction or caution won't automatically bar you from working in the NHS.

Midwifery students can no longer claim a bursary but can apply for student loan support. In some cases it may be possible to obtain some additional financial help from the Learning Support Fund.

Gaining a place on a direct entry course into midwifery is highly competitive, so you should aim to apply as early as possible.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • the ability to communicate well and clearly with a diverse range of women
  • a caring and calm manner for dealing with emotional situations
  • the ability to react quickly and effectively in times of stress or when immediate decisions need to be made during labour
  • strong teamworking skills to liaise with different medical professionals
  • strength, stamina and physical fitness
  • a commitment to equal treatment for all women, irrespective of their background or circumstances.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience in a caring role within health and social care is a distinct advantage. Many midwives with previous nursing experience believe that this was useful when they started midwifery training.

Useful experience might include supporting teenage parents, working with breastfeeding groups or charities dealing with issues such as birth defects, bereavement or miscarriage.

Employers

Most midwives in England are employed by the NHS in:

  • hospitals and acute trusts
  • foundation trusts
  • through clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)
  • local area teams (LATs) working in GP practices or in the community.

The structure of the NHS is somewhat different in other parts of the UK.

You can also find employment in private hospitals, independent practices and the armed forces.

Self-employment is possible. University hospitals employ midwives in joint partnerships between the trust and the university to work in lecturer-practitioner positions, or to conduct research.

Look for job vacancies at:

Many recruitment agencies, such as Pulse, regularly handle vacancies and a searchable directory is available at Nursing Agencies List. Job vacancies, and information on becoming a midwife and making your application stand out, is available from Your Midwife Career.

Professional development

As a newly qualified midwife, you'll be given a formal period of support under the guidance of an experienced professional colleague. They'll be on hand to offer advice and help in the first few months of professional practice.

Throughout your career, you'll need to maintain your registration with the NMC, which has to be renewed every three years. To do this you must show you've met revalidation requirements within that time. These include:

  • 450 practice hours, which can be made up of providing direct care to patients, managing teams, teaching others or running a care service
  • 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD), including 20 hours of participatory learning
  • five pieces of practice-related feedback
  • five written reflective accounts
  • reflective discussion
  • health and character declaration
  • professional indemnity arrangement.

CPD participatory learning must involve interaction with at least one other professional and can include attending conferences, workshops or relevant training courses and events. Find out more at NMC Revalidation.

There are opportunities to extend your role by taking specialist courses in areas such as enhanced midwifery practice, family planning, teaching in clinical practice, and research. Information on relevant events, courses and resources is available from The Royal College of Midwives. There are also opportunities for further study at degree, Masters and PhD level.

Search for postgraduate courses in midwifery.

Career prospects

You can develop experience and knowledge in a number of different healthcare settings, including becoming a clinical specialist in an area such as:

  • antenatal screening
  • breastfeeding advice
  • home birthing
  • intensive care neonatal units
  • labour ward supervision
  • parenting education
  • public health
  • ultrasound and foetal medicine.

You might become a consultant midwife, dividing your time between working directly with patients and training and leading improvements in practice.

Or, you may seek a higher management opportunity, such as the position of head of midwifery services, or as a supervisor of midwives with the local supervising authority. Alternatively, you could go into teaching or research within a healthcare setting or a university.

You can find opportunities for travel in both the EU and overseas, either still practising as a midwife or working for organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). In some countries, however, midwives must also hold registered nurse status in order to practise, so you should check this before applying.