Midwives provide advice, care and support for women and their babies during pregnancy, labour and the early postnatal period. They help women make their own decisions about the care and services they access.
They care for newborn children, providing health education and parenting support immediately after delivery, until care is transferred to a health visitor.
Midwives are personally responsible for the health of both mother and child and only refer to obstetricians if there are medical complications. They work in multidisciplinary teams in both hospital and, increasingly, community healthcare settings.
A midwife has a range of responsibilities, including the care of mother and baby, adhering to hospital policy and maintaining an awareness of issues such as health and safety. Duties include:
- diagnosing, monitoring and examining women during pregnancy;
- developing, assessing and evaluating individual programmes of care;
- providing full antenatal care, including screening tests in the hospital, community and the home;
- identifying high risk pregnancies and making referrals to doctors and other medical specialists;
- arranging and providing parenting and health education;
- providing counselling and advice before and after screening and tests;
- offering support and advice following events such as miscarriage, termination, stillbirth, neonatal abnormality and neonatal death;
- supervising and assisting mothers in labour, monitoring the condition of the foetus and using knowledge of drugs and pain management;
- giving support and advice on the daily care of the baby, including breastfeeding, bathing and making up feeds;
- liaising with agencies and other health and social care professionals to ensure continuity of care;
- engaging in professional development to meet PREP (post-registration education and practice) requirements;
- participating in the training and supervision of junior colleagues.
Midwives working for the National Health Service (NHS) are paid according to a fixed payscale. For details, see Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates.
- The minimum starting salary for newly qualified midwives in the NHS is £21,388 at Band 5.
- Midwives usually progress to Band 6, which starts at £25,783, after a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 24. Subject to attainment within the NHS Career Framework salaries can rise to £34,530.
- Salaries at a senior level, e.g. those managing a team, research or teaching activities, or with specialist knowledge is £30,764 to £40,558 at Band 7.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
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 24 hours and you should expect to be part of an on-call rota at some point in your career.
What to expect
- Midwives 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.
- Self-employment or working freelance is sometimes possible and a number of midwives will work in independent practice, which may offer more opportunity for continuity of care. Many midwives prefer to work part time.
- Career breaks, assistance with accommodation and childcare facilities may be available.
- There is a very high percentage of women in the profession.
- Midwives are appointed to jobs in all areas 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 at day or night, but overnight absences from home and overseas travel are unlikely.
To become a midwife you will need to gain a degree from an approved midwifery course, leading to registration with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). The programmes are usually three years in length and are full-time.
Qualified nurses can complete a shortened programme, which lasts 78 weeks full-time. A small number of universities offer a part-time option. Both of these routes are known as pre-registration programmes.
Applicants must have a minimum of five GCSEs (or equivalent) and at least two A-levels (or equivalent) for degree programmes. Check individual entry requirements with course providers. Course entry is also possible through recognised access programmes, or in England, foundation degrees in healthcare or related subjects.
Applications for degrees and diplomas in England and Scotland are made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Information on degrees in Wales is available from Health in Wales and applications should be made through UCAS. Details for individual institutions in Northern Ireland are available from the Northern Ireland Practice & Education Council for Nursing & Midwifery and applications are made directly to the institution.
Acceptance on a course will be subject to satisfactory health clearance and a disclosure and barring service (DBS) check. Some medical conditions may exclude entry. If you are a student with special needs, you will be asked to identify any additional requirements related to your disability.
Courses cover applied psychology and sociology as well as biological sciences and professional practice. Most modules are continually assessed.
Financial support is available from NHS Student Bursaries. Eligible students will have their tuition fees paid in full by the NHS. Student midwives on diploma courses are eligible for a non-means-tested bursary. Students on degree courses receive a means-tested bursary and are eligible for student loans.
If you attend a course in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, broadly comparable arrangements will apply, but you will need to consult the relevant national authorities for details. Non-European Union nationals may not be eligible for funding and may need a student visa to study. Course providers can also provide further information on finance.
Gaining a place on a direct entry course to midwifery is highly competitive, so you should aim to apply early.
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- an intuitive, caring, objective and flexible approach;
- strong teamworking and advocacy skills;
- a calm and alert manner, especially in stressful situations;
- the ability to react quickly and effectively;
- strength, stamina and physical fitness;
- a commitment to equal treatment for all women, irrespective of their background or circumstances.
Pre-entry experience in a caring role within health and social care is a distinct advantage. Many midwives with previous nursing experience believe that it was useful when they started midwifery training. Useful voluntary experience for direct entrants might include supporting teenage parents, working with breastfeeding groups or charities dealing with issues such as birth defects, bereavement or miscarriage.
The vast majority of midwives in England are employed by:
- National Health Service (NHS);
- 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.
Other types of employers include:
- private hospitals;
- independent practices;
- the armed forces.
Currently, there is a shortage of midwives in England, and a report from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) states that 2,300 more midwives are required. Areas that are particularly badly affected are the South East, the east coast and East Midlands. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not have shortages at the moment.
Some midwives are self-employed. University hospitals also 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:
- Midwives Jobs
- NHS Jobs
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- Nursing Standard
- Nursing Times
- National and local press.
Many recruitment agencies regularly handle vacancies.
A midwife must be registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) in order to practice. Newly qualified midwives are often given a formal period of support under the guidance of a preceptor, an experienced professional colleague, who can offer support and guidance in the first few months of professional practice. They also have to present a practice portfolio annually to a supervisor of midwives to demonstrate their professional competence.
Post-registration education and practice (PREP) is a set of standards that you are expected to meet to demonstrate that you are developing knowledge and competence and keeping up to date in your practice.
They include a minimum of 35 hours' study activity every three years and the maintenance of a professional profile detailing professional development. You will be expected to meet them in order to renew your NMC registration every three years. More information on the specific requirements is published in the NMC's Prep Handbook.
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. There are also opportunities for further study at degree, Masters and PhD level. Search for postgraduate courses in midwifery.
Midwives are able to work in a number of different healthcare settings to develop experience and knowledge, which can lead to a range of career paths.
You could become a clinical specialist in an area such as:
- home birthing;
- breast feeding advice;
- labour ward supervision;
- antenatal screening.
You might become a consultant midwife, dividing your time between midwifery practice and training and leading improvements in practice.
Higher management opportunities exist as a head of midwifery services or a supervisor of midwives with the local supervising authority. You could also choose to go into teaching or research within a healthcare setting or a university. There are also specialist roles in areas such as public health, parenting education, intensive care neonatal units, ultrasound and foetal medicine.
You can find opportunities for travel within the job in both the EU and overseas, as well as working abroad 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.