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Midwives: providing companionate safe care for mothers and babies

Gergana Nikolova, Executive Board Member, EMA, Belgium

By definition, the midwife has always and will always support the woman during her childbearing life; offering professional support during pregnancy and ensuring the safe birth of every new life. In reality, the midwife is the first professional who will recognise problems, the first to offer advice and practical support, and the first to advocate for the woman’s rights while supporting her family.

Despite this, for decades the shortage of midwives and the struggle to provide compassionate care in ever more challenging environments has been noted but changes, if any, are slow or counterproductive. So, where do we stand?

Across Europe, the lack of midwives has led to a lack of physical and emotional support for many women. There are a rising number of cases where a shortage of midwifery care resulted in warning symptoms such as pre-eclampsia or uterine ablution being missed and mothers dying.

At the same time our midwives, unable to provide the care they want to and pushed to work relentless hours due to staff shortages, are leaving the profession devastated, heartbroken and physically exhausted. Unfortunately, just as these highly experienced professionals move on, the numbers of young and passionate students willing to pick up the baton decreases every year.

The physical and emotional support which has been provided by midwives is irreplaceable. It is clear however, that if nothing is done, very soon all the knowledge and experience related to physiological birth, hypnobirthing or water birth, the art of breastfeeding and vital postnatal care will be lost, simply because there will be no midwives to practice it.

The miracle of safe birth rests on the bond and the trust between the expectant mother and her midwife. Not the hospitals, not the new technologies or the new equipment but fundamentally in the hands of the caring and loving midwife.