What is a Midwife?

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What is a midwife?

In Canada, midwives are regulated health care providers who care for healthy women and their newborn babies from early pregnancy, through labour and birth, until about 6 weeks postpartum. As primary care providers, midwives are fully responsible for clinical decisions and managing the course of a woman’s care.  They can order and interpret tests, prescribe medications, make referrals to specialists, and catch babies.  They are available to their clients 24 hours a day through the course of their care for urgent concerns.  Midwives are women-centered health care providers – they support the decisions that women and families they care for feel work best for them.

Can I have a doctor and a midwife?

No.   A woman can only have one primary care provider in pregnancy and childbirth.  She can have either a midwife or a physician to care for her (in some parts of Canada, a nurse practitioner can be a primary care provider, though not for birth).  Midwives are experts at low-risk pregnancy and normal birth.  They will consult with specialists and other health care providers if concerns or complications arise over the course of a woman’s care.   Clients stay in midwifery care until about 6 weeks postpartum.   After that, they are transferred back to their family physician who will resume responsibility for their health care.

What’s the difference between a doula and midwife?

A birth doula is someone who is trained in providing labour support, both physical and emotional, to a labouring woman and her partner.  Doulas do not provide medical care or catch babies, however they can provide a wide range of comfort measures to a woman in labour.  Their services are not covered by provincial health care plans; women must find and pay for doula services themselves.

What does it cost to use a midwife?

Midwifery is now legislated and regulated in most provinces across Canada.  In some of the areas listed in the table (see below) midwifery services are completely covered by government so women do not pay out of pocket for midwifery care.  In some cases, women who are not covered by provincial health care plans can also receive free midwifery care. 

What happens at a prenatal appointment?

Midwives see their clients with the same frequency as physicians – monthly until 28 weeks, bi-weekly until 36 weeks, then weekly until birth.  During regularly scheduled visits, midwives provide physical exams and assessments, share information and provide support.  Appointments typically last between 30-45 minutes, leaving lots of time for women to ask questions as they arise. 

What happens at appointments when my baby is born?

Midwives care for women and their babies up to 6 weeks postpartum.  Visits are conducted at the client’s home in the first 1-2 weeks following the birth. After that, the mother and baby come to the clinic every 2 weeks. In these weeks after the birth, midwives monitor the health of the mother and baby and provide extensive breastfeeding support.  As in pregnancy, midwives remain available for urgent concerns 24 hours a day, every day in the postpartum.

Where can I give birth?

In most places, you can choose to give birth at home or hospital when cared for by a midwife.  In some places, women may also choose to give birth at a birth centre. This choice of birthplace is central to midwifery care.  See the table below for more info about birth place options by province.

What pain relief options are available to me in labour?

Midwives offer a range of natural and pharmaceutical pain relief options.  Epidural is available to clients who choose to birth in hospital.  Women who birth at home use water, massage and other methods to manage the pain of labour.  Through pregnancy, midwives will discuss the risks and benefits of the options available in their community with their clients.

What happens if there is a problem in my pregnancy or birth?

In each province, midwives have clear guidelines of when they need to consult with a physician through pregnancy, birth and the postpartum if complications arise.   In some cases, care can be transferred to a physician (for example, with a cesarean section).  In these cases, midwives continue to provide supportive care and will resume primary care when possible. 

How do I find a midwife?

This table lists the availability of midwives by province and territory.

Province/ Territory

Midwifery is regulated:

Midwifery is funded by government:

Midwifery care is free:

Choice of birth place:

How to find a midwife 

  Alberta

yes

yes

yes

Home, birth centre, or hospital

website

  British Columbia

yes

yes

yes

Home or hospital

website

  Manitoba

yes

yes

yes

Home, birth centre, or hospital

website

  Newfoundland

  and Labrador

no

no

no

Hospital (nurse-midwives)

website

  New Brunswick

yes

No

no

Not available

--

  Northwest Territories

yes

yes

yes

Home, birth centre, or hospital

No formal contact

  Nova Scotia

yes

yes

yes

Home or hospital

website

  Nunavut

yes

yes

yes

Birth centre or hospital in Winnipeg, Yellowknife or Iqaluit

No formal contact

  Ontario

yes

yes

yes

Home, birth centre or hospital

website

  Prince Edward

  Island

no

no

no

--

--

  Quebec

yes

yes

yes

Home, birth centre or hospital

website

  Saskatchewan

yes

yes

yes

Home or hospital

website

  Yukon

no

no

no

 

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 Where Do I Go For More Information?

Created September 2013.