How to become a midwife: career pathways
Pregnancy and childbirth are life-changing experiences. Midwives provide care for women through these stages and beyond.
Midwifery is a specialized role that requires compassion, medical knowledge, and ongoing training. It's also a growing industry with a positive job growth rate. In fact, by 2031, it's expected that there'll be up to 40% more workers in the field.
Do you see yourself working with moms and babies? We'll tell you about working as a midwife in this career guide.
You'll learn about the daily duties and the average midwife salary. Plus, we'll share the pathway to becoming a midwife and the skills you'll need to thrive in this field.
Ready? Let's get started.
What is a midwife?
Midwives offer a range of services for pregnant women and newborn babies. For example, they provide support during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as postpartum care and newborn care.
Midwives are qualified medical professionals who work with doctors, doulas, nurses, and surgeons to make sure babies are delivered safely.
There are different types of midwives, including certified nurse-midwives (CNMs), certified midwives (CMs), and certified professional midwives (CPMs). The preferred qualification is CNM.
What's the difference between a CNM and a nurse? Nurses offer generalized healthcare and can work in a range of departments, whereas CNMs have additional qualifications and specialize in pregnancy, labor, and early childhood.
Midwives can be found in a range of work locations. Common employers include birthing centers, hospitals, private practices, and midwifery practices.
If you get a midwifery position, you can expect to work unusual hours. Night shifts, weekends, and holiday shifts are usually part of the job.
What does a midwife do?
What does a day in the life of a midwife look like? Here are some of the most common responsibilities:
1. Provide support during childbirth
Midwives are there during labor and delivery. They make sure the woman feels comfortable and answer any questions she might have.
As skilled healthcare providers, midwives ensure everything is progressing as it should. They monitor both the mother and the baby for any changes during childbirth.
For example, they'll listen to the baby's heartbeat to check for signs of distress. They'll also watch for complications and update doctors if required.
If the patient has a birth plan, the midwife will do their best to follow the plan so the woman has a positive experience. They may offer pain relief under the supervision of a physician.
2. Educate parents
Having a baby can be daunting, especially for first-time parents. Midwives help new parents feel comfortable through educational services.
For example, they can support moms with feeding their babies and explain the process, whether it's breastfeeding or bottle feeding.
Midwives can also show anxious parents how to bathe their babies and discuss safe sleeping. They can talk about childhood illnesses, hearing tests, car seats, body changes, and more.
Midwives can answer questions and help moms and dads feel more confident as parents. Sometimes, midwives are present during antenatal classes.
3. Examine patients
Midwives examine moms and babies to make sure they're in good health.
There are a number of physical exams that mothers-to-be can undergo. For example, midwives may perform ultrasounds, check temperatures, or monitor vital signs such as blood pressure and respiratory rate.
After childbirth, midwives may provide gynecological care to women. This may include STD screenings and pap smears.
Midwives also check the baby's health. They'll look for abnormalities that may need investigation, such as muscular or skeletal issues, hearing difficulties, or jaundice.
4. Provide follow-up care
Midwives often care for mothers and babies in the first few months post-birth. They make sure the babies are developing properly and record their height and weight.
Midwives track the child's progress to make sure there are no red flags. If they notice anything unusual, they'll refer the baby to a specialist.
Midwives can also provide expert advice based on the baby's stage. For example, when it's time to start eating solids, a midwife can teach parents about first foods.
Midwives also offer emotional support to parents. Sleep deprivation and hormones can make parents feel isolated, and the midwife will be there to help them deal with any negative feelings.
5. Work with other healthcare professionals
A team approach is required to provide excellent medical care for moms and new babies. Midwives work with other healthcare professionals to give patients the best possible service.
For example, physiotherapists may provide services to mothers after childbirth. Plus, primary care physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, psychologists, and nurses can all provide care to patients.
Doulas may also be present during deliveries, offering emotional support to parents.
A midwife can work with all of these professionals to support healthy pregnancies. They can use their excellent communication skills to build strong professional relationships.
How much does a midwife make?
If you're considering a midwife career, you should know what your earning potential is. In the US, the average annual salary for a nurse midwife is $114,210 or $54.91 per hour.
The median salaries can vary depending on where you work. For example, if you get a job at a hospital or outpatient care center, the average yearly salary is $128,190. Those in physician's offices make a bit less, on average — around $121,280 per year.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average midwife salary can also differ between states. The highest-paying state for midwives is West Virginia, where the average salary is $163,190 per year. Utah midwives also have excellent salaries — $143,890 per year, on average.
In California, the compensation is above average at $137,070 per year. In Massachusetts, it's $129,360, and in New York, midwives make around $126,170 per year.
With additional education and experience, you can boost your income even further.
How to become a midwife
Want to become a midwife? Here are the steps you'll need to take:
1. Get prepared
First, you’ll need to decide whether this is the right career path for you. Being a midwife is rewarding, but it can have challenges. For example, most midwives work both day and night shifts, and you'll need to be comfortable with the birthing process.
You should have a high school diploma or equivalent to get into college. Some colleges and universities will have a minimum grade point average (GPA) entry score. There can also be minimum age requirements, such as 18 or 21.
Now is a good time to choose your pathway. Do you already have a degree, or do you need to start from the beginning?
If you have any healthcare experience or medical knowledge, that'll be an advantage.
You can also speak to others in the healthcare industry to learn more about this job before you decide to pursue it.
2. Enroll in a degree program
Extensive training is required before you can work as a midwife.
During this stage, you'll need to complete a bachelor's degree. There are different options, but most midwives have a degree in nursing.
The most commonly recognized degree is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). You'll gain a broad range of healthcare skills and get clinical experience while you study. A BSN takes around four years to complete.
If you already have a degree in a different healthcare field, you may be able to become a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). But there'll be limitations on where you can work and what you can do.
3. Pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
Once you have a degree in nursing, you'll need to pass a national licensing exam designed to test your healthcare knowledge. This is called the NCLEX-RN, and if you pass, you can work as a registered nurse (RN).
This computer-based exam takes around six hours to complete and comes with an application fee. If you fail the exam the first time, you can take it again at a later date.
As an RN, you can start working in the industry. You’ll gain valuable experience and network with other healthcare professionals.
And for most graduate programs, work experience is an entry requirement. You might need one or two years, depending on where you want to study.
4. Enroll in a graduate program
The next step is to get a degree in midwifery. You'll need to enroll in an Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME)-approved midwifery graduate program.
The minimum degree you'll need is a master's degree. Options include a Master of Science in Nursing Midwifery (MSc), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and a Nurse-Midwifery (NMW) degree. Each of these programs takes around two years of full-time study.
If you prefer, there are opportunities for more advanced study pathways, including a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
During your midwifery program, you'll learn a range of specialized skills. For example, the graduate degree will cover reproductive health, prenatal care, and postnatal care. Clinical training is also included.
5. Pass the midwifery exam
The last step is a midwifery certification exam, and you can sign up through the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB).
To apply for the certification exam, you'll need to be a qualified RN and have a midwifery degree. The exam will test your knowledge, and a passing score will show you're ready for the demands of the job.
This national certification exam comes with a fee, and there can be ongoing requirements. For example, there's usually a renewal fee. You'll also have to keep your skills and training up to date.
Keep in mind that certification and licensure requirements can vary between states. Your educational facility will give you the best advice on these details.
6. Start work
It'll take time to get to this stage, but once you've completed your midwifery training, you'll be ready to start work. Your first stop is our job board, where you can browse midwifery positions.
You can also check with hospitals and birth centers to see if there are any vacancies.
Remember, you'll already have experience in a medical care setting. You can reach out to any professional connections you've made. Can anyone you know recommend you for a position?
Before you apply, update your resume and cover letter. The application process usually includes multiple interviews, as well as a background check and drug screening check.
What skills do you need to be a midwife?
Your midwife training will teach you the technical know-how. But, there are a few key skills you'll need to be successful.
For example, midwives are patient-focused and need to be both compassionate and excellent communicators. You'll also need critical-thinking skills, problem-solving skills, organizational skills, and time management skills.
Because midwifery is a healthcare role, accuracy and attention to detail are on the must-have skill list. And midwives spend most of their shifts on their feet, so physical fitness and manual dexterity are also essential.
Plus, it's a team environment, so midwives need to work well with others.
Where to get a job as a midwife
Read each job description carefully to make sure you meet the minimum criteria.
There are perks that come with your free Jobcase membership. For example, you can set up job alerts, so you'll never miss a career opportunity that might be a good fit for you.
You can also use our free resume builder and participate in community discussions. Plus, you can create a profile and start networking with others in your industry.
Becoming a midwife
Midwives work in hospital settings, private clinics, and birthing centers. They provide care to mothers and babies during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period.
There are a few midwife requirements you’ll need to complete before applying for a job. For example, most of these healthcare professionals have a BSN degree as well as graduate education. Certifications are also required, and you'll need to pass a computerized exam.
If you're thinking of working as a midwife, it'll take six years of study or more. You'll need to be a caring and compassionate person with excellent communication and time management skills.
This job comes with a competitive salary, and it's a growing field with plenty of work opportunities. Just remember, babies aren't always born when they're supposed to be — so night shifts will usually be required.