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There’s far more to midwifery than managing the messy miracle of childbirth. It’s a diverse and challenging career that’s all about forging connections, building trust and multitasking.
Midwives support women and their babies before, during and after childbirth – and yes, midwives do actually get to deliver babies. Unlike nurses, who treat people who are unwell, midwives primarily deal with healthy women throughout their pregnancies.
Midwifery has experienced strong growth in the past decade, and the Australian Jobs Outlook predicts it will continue to grow moderately over the next few years.
Anita Hubbard, a midwife at the Royal Women’s Hospital and graduate of Deakin University’s Bachelor of Nursing/Bachelor of Midwifery, shares her insights into what it’s really like to be a midwife.
Welcoming a new baby into the world is an exciting time for families. Midwives are there every step of the way – so the career suits those with a passion for helping people.
‘I love being able to provide a warm and calm environment for a baby to be born into, being able to make connections with people and having them trust me,’ Anita says.
For midwives, amazing experiences are just part of the job. ‘I once helped with triplets in a caesarian section,’ Anita recalls. ‘I received two of the triplets from the obstetrician as soon as they were lifted out of the abdomen. It’s amazing holding them in your hands – they’re so small.’
Because midwives support women before, during and after childbirth, the job is diverse. They generally work shifts – AM, PM or night shifts of eight hours and many work part time. While nurses are usually stationed on a particular ward, it’s common for midwives to switch between different areas within a hospital.
Anita explains: ‘You might be in theatre doing a day of planned c-sections. You may be in the labour ward delivering babies – sometimes that’s a normal vaginal birth or forceps delivery or emergency caesarian. You could be on the antenatal ward putting on a CTG (cardiotocograph), which monitors the foetal heart rate and contractions to see how baby’s dealing with contractions.
‘You could be on the antenatal clinic, where a woman will come in and you’ll measure her belly to make sure baby’s growing, and listen to the heart rate and blood pressure. Then some midwives go out and see women at home to make sure baby’s putting on weight and breastfeeding’s going okay.’
Midwives can work on large or small teams, and many aspire to one-to-one roles in which they are the dedicated midwife for specific women. Alternatively, some midwives are based at community health clinics and some work in research.
'‘I love being able to provide a warm and calm environment for a baby to be born into, being able to make connections with people and having them trust me.’'
‘The biggest challenge is facilitating that calm environment while multitasking,’ Anita says. ‘On top of that, other challenges are the emotional side of it, when things don’t quite go to plan; if baby doesn’t make it, is unwell or is born with genetic problems.’
Like many other hospital jobs, midwifery can be physically demanding. To be successful at juggling your lifestyle around shift work and sometimes being on-call, it’s important to be organised and have a supportive family, Anita advises.
‘It’s typical in the nursing or mid world to work a “late early” shift, where you finish at 10pm and have to be back at 7am. Patients are like, “Did you sleep here?”’ Anita laughs.
‘Most of us get used to that – it gets two shifts out of the way really quickly.’
Unsurprisingly, Anita says the best midwives are caring, kind, understanding and confident dealing with people. Being organised and paying strong attention to detail are also vital skills.
‘Being able to multitask is a big one,’ she adds. ‘In the birth centre, a lot of people think you’re just waiting for the baby to come out.
‘But every half an hour for 10 minutes you’ve got your hand on her abdomen monitoring how strong her contractions are. You also have to think about baby’s heart rate, look at the monitor and monitor whether baby’s coping okay. You need to offer mum pain relief. If she’s on a medication you may need to do other observations. You need to measure her urine output every hour, change her position … It can be a very high stress environment but you’ve got to keep her calm and not be freaking out.’
Anita studied the Bachelor of Nursing/Bachelor of Midwifery at Deakin, which is a four-year double degree. Deakin also offers a Graduate Diploma of Midwifery, which requires a Bachelor of Nursing or equivalent to enter.
In addition, midwives are required to complete 20 hours of professional development each year.
Deakin University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery is celebrating 30 years in 2017. It’s one of the largest in Australia and ranked among the best in the world.
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