Manitoba undergoing a midwifery renaissance

By Gwendolyn Kydd
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, May 3, 2021

An occupation that pre-dates the Renaissance by at least a few thousand years is, ironically, enjoying a significant renaissance here in Manitoba in recent years.

While the origin of the first midwife is lost to antiquity, we do know that midwifery was a recognized professional in ancient Egypt.

Here in Manitoba, during a period of greater access to medical technology that began early in the 20th century, midwifery went into a state of decline as women increasingly turned to physicians and hospitals for health care relating to pregnancy and childbirth. That trend started to reverse in the 1980s and ‘90s as women once again started turning to midwives for care.

In 1997, the Manitoba government declared midwifery an independent, regulated health care service. The subsequent passage of The Midwifery Act in 2000 defined midwives as primary health care providers with a specified area and scope of practice, and established the College of Midwives of Manitoba as its official governing body. All practicing midwives must be registered with the College.

As the world celebrates the International Day of the Midwife on May 5, it’s worth taking a look at the current state of midwifery here in Manitoba, as well as what the future holds.

Not to be confused with doulas – individuals who provide comfort care and assist during labor and after childbirth – Manitoba’s midwives are highly-trained health care professionals who provide prenatal, labour and birth, and postpartum care. They are trained to identify problems or complications and can provide emergency treatment until additional assistance is available.

Midwifery care also includes education, counseling and support for childbearing people. The midwife works with each woman and her family to identify their unique physical, social and emotional needs, providing care throughout pregnancy to about six weeks after the baby’s birth. This includes breastfeeding support and early parenting education.

Midwifery is a great option for women looking for person-centred care that facilitates a more collaborative relationship with their caregiver than what may be typical in other settings. Midwives pride themselves on providing a wide range of information, options and alternatives when it comes to laboratory procedures, diagnostic testing and place of birth, and will respect your choices. Client feedback indicates that the women who choose midwifery for their pregnancy and postpartum care often feel more empowered.

Put another way, women often feel that under the care of a midwife, pregnancy is not something that is happening to them, but with them. They feel better able to voice concerns and make choices within a supportive environment that respects their bodies and their lives.

According to the College of Midwives of Manitoba, there are currently more than 40 midwives practicing in in the province. That number is expected to increase as the University of Manitoba launches its new, four-year bachelor of midwifery program in September. The new program represents a major step forward for Manitoba women who previously had to attend universities in Calgary, Sudbury, Hamilton and Toronto to obtain a midwifery degree.

Despite its recent resurgence in Manitoba, some myths about midwifery have managed to persist. Chief among these is that midwifery falls outside the medical mainstream. It doesn’t.

Midwives are not an alternative to the health-care system; they are an integral part of it, working collaboratively with doctors, nurses, social workers and other medical professions to provide the best possible care for women under their care.

Nor are the women they care for out the mainstream. Opting to use the services of a midwife doesn’t make you some sort of new-age, anti-establishment rebel. World-wide, more than 80 percent of babies are born into the hands of a midwife, and last year in Manitoba, midwives provided care in roughly 1,800 pregnancies.

Midwives work hard to be accessible to people of all backgrounds and situations, with equity and access serving as central objectives in their work.

In fact, the most “alternative” part of your interaction with your midwife may be your choice for place-of-birth. For low-risk pregnancies, those choices include the hospital, in the home or the Women’s Health Clinic Birth Centre at 603 St. Mary’s Road.

Midwifery has been part of the lives of families and cultures all over the world for untold generations. If you think it may be a choice worth considering, you can find more information at  www.midwives.mb.ca , wrha.mb.ca/midwifery/ or whcbirthcentre.com/midwifery .

Gwendolyn Kydd is Midwifery Manager for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Midwives . . .

  • believe that pregnancy and birth are part of a woman’s general health. Midwives expect childbirth to be straightforward but they are skilled and know what to do if there are any complications or difficulties.
  • recognize that pregnancy and birth affect a woman and her family deeply. Midwives know that the changes in the childbearing year affect a woman emotionally, spiritually and socially, as well as physically.
  • get to know you. You will see the same midwives all through your pregnancy. You can expect that a midwife you know will be with you throughout your labour and when your baby is born.
  • will answer your questions and talk to you about your worries. They will give you information about healthy foods, feeding your baby, different choices for labour pain and other topics.
  • can be with you at the birth wherever you want your baby to be born. Midwives can be with you in a hospital, birth centre or at your home. If you need extra care a midwife can put you in touch with a doctor, public health nurse or other caregiver.
  • are highly trained and experienced. Around the world, midwives have excellent records of safety and offer high-quality care for mothers and babies.

Source: The College of Midwives of Manitoba

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