Nurse Midwifery: Career Overview

nurse midwife with patient doing a sonogram

Thinking of a career as a nurse midwife? See if you can bring new life to a trending career field.

Nurse midwifery is a nursing specialization dealing with pregnancy, labor, and postpartum concerns. As a nurse midwife, you’ll work with mothers to ensure their safety during the childbirth process as well as the safety of their newborn child.

While nurse midwifery has its roots in traditional birthing practices, the use of midwives is still a popular choice in modern times.

Increasingly, parents are choosing to use the services of nurse midwives in place of or along with OB-GYN providers for standard births.  According to data from the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), more than 8% of all U.S. births in 2014 were attended by a certified nurse midwife. Since 2005, the number of hospital births attended by midwives has increased by 11%.

If you’re interested in this growing career path, read on to learn more about the education you’ll need, the work that you’ll do, and the ways you can advance your career.

What Is a Nurse Midwife?

Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) are a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Along with traditional RN training, CNMs have also completed coursework through an accredited master’s degree program. As a certified nurse midwife, you’ll provide reproductive healthcare services, as well as care and counseling during a child’s infancy. CNMs can be found in hospitals, birthing centers, private practices, and as part of larger healthcare organizations.

CNMs are different from other types of midwives—certified midwives and direct entry midwives—because they bring advanced education and experience to their practice. Additionally, CNMs are legally able to practice in all 50 states, have authority to prescribe medication, and are considered primary care providers under federal law.

What Nurse Midwives Do

While working in midwifery, you might take on a wide range of responsibilities. What you encounter often depends on where you work. For example, if you own a private practice, you might take on more duties than you would working at a large hospital. Some general tasks performed by CNMs include:

  • Running STD and other tests on prospective, expecting, and new parents
  • Providing education and training on breastfeeding
  • Educating new parents on infant care, including topics such as SIDS and colic
  • Preparing mothers for the birthing process and providing counseling on issues including anesthesia and how to handle complications
  • Performing regular exams before and after childbirth
  • Staying with a mother during the labor and delivery process
  • Being on the lookout for complications that require medical intervention by a physician
  • Providing postpartum care for mothers and infants

Nurse midwives vs. OB-GYNs, doulas, and other caregivers

Nurse midwives are just one of the choices soon-to-be-parents can make when it comes to pre- and postnatal care. There are some important distinctions between nurse midwives and other childbirth practitioners. Some other common providers include:

  • OB-GYNs: Working in the specialty of obstetrics and gynecology, OB-GYNs are physicians that are able to handle non-traditional births and provide care such as inducing labor or performing C-sections. OB-GYNs are also able to safely deliver infants in cases where the mother has a health concern that may affect the birth.
  • Doulas: Doulas are trained professionals who have met the requirements of a certification program. Like CNMs, doulas are trained in the birthing process and postnatal care, however, unlike CNMs, they don’t provide clinical or medical care. Doulas are primarily focused on the emotional and physical needs that occur during labor. They perform tasks that aim to create a calming environment and ensure effective communication between new parents and medical practitioners.
  • Childbirth educators: Childbirth educators are trained to lead childbirth classes in hospitals, birthing centers, and other community facilities. While childbirth educators can provide parents with information and counseling, they’re not part of the actual birthing process and they don’t provide any medical care.
  • Other specialists: There are many other specialists that parents might choose to utilize before, during, or after childbirth. Like childbirth educators, these professionals are not part of the delivery process, but they might be an asset to parents. Some other often-consulted roles include lactation support specialists, postpartum physical therapists, prenatal fitness instructors, and new parent counselors.

How Much Money Do Nurse Midwives Make?

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Working as a nurse midwife can be a highly lucrative career.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual nurse midwife salary is $103,640, or roughly $50 an hour.

This number is well above the reported salary for Registered Nurses, which the BLS lists as an average of $73,550 per year.

How to Become a Nurse Midwife

To become a nurse midwife, you’ll need to earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Whether you currently have your associate’s or bachelor’s degree, there are programs that can allow you to work toward your MSN. In general, you’ll need to meet certain requirements before enrolling in a CNM program. These often include:

  • A year or more of work in a labor and delivery unit as a registered nurse
  • A current and unrestricted RN license
  • Satisfactory Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores

Programs are available both online and on campus at schools across the country. These programs are often designed with working nurses in mind and can be taken on a full- or part-time basis.

School accreditation for nurse midwife programs

When researching schools and programs, make sure the nurse-midwifery school you choose is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), or the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM).

Nurse midwife education options

If you want to work in nurse midwifery, it’s essential to complete an accredited MSN-level program. Depending on your current level of education, there are a few different paths you can take:

  • RN-to-MSN programs: If you currently hold an associate’s degree in nursing, you might be able to enroll in a bridge program, allowing you to fast track to an MSN degree.
  • Direct entry programs: If you have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, you might still be able to earn your MSN through programs designed for people looking to make a career switch.
  • MSN programs: If you already have a BSN, you can explore MSN programs in your area and online. An MSN program for nurse midwifery will include classes on advanced practice nursing, pre- and postpartum, and other issues related to women’s health.
  • Doctorate programs: Doctoral-level programs for CNMs are relatively new, but they may be something you’ll want to look into as you advance your career. This degree may allow you to achieve a leadership role in nurse midwifery.

Depending on your program and the level of education you start with, earning your MSN in nurse midwifery can take 2–4 years.

Is financial aid available?

Financial aid is available from a variety of sources, and most commonly the government. You’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered. Other types of financial aid include a variety of scholarships, grants, private loans, and PLUS loans. Read our Nursing Financial Aid article to understand all of your options and begin making your “paying-for-school” plan.

Licensing and certification

Once you complete your degree, your next step will be taking the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) exam.  Passing this exam grants you certification to practice as a Certified Nurse Midwife.

The AMCB test consists of 175 questions administered on a computer. You’ll have 4 tries to pass the exam, and you’ll need to pass it within 24 months of completing your program. Each exam costs $500, so it’s best to be as prepared as possible and confident in your nurse midwifery knowledge.

More information on the exam, including practice questions and study resources, are available from the AMCB.

Will I need to complete continuing education units throughout my career?

Yes. The American College of Nurse Midwives offers many continuing education classes that are approved by state boards of nursing. Since each state differs, consult your nursing board to find out how many credits you need to fulfill and how often.

Midwifery career path for RNs

In addition to providing care before, during, and after childbirth, CNMs can also act as primary care providers. This might involve writing prescriptions, performing non-pregnancy-related exams, and going over test results with patients at all stages of their lives.

If you’re interested in transitioning to less hands-on work, you may be able to use your nurse midwife degree in administrative and public policy positions. For example, if you’re passionate about safety during labor, you might be able to use your role as a CNM to advocate for health initiatives that will improve patients’ lives.

Where Do Nurse Midwives Work?

Nurse midwives might work in a variety of locations throughout their career. Some common employers include :

  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Birthing centers
  • Medical centers
  • Colleges and universities
  • Government offices

Some CNMs also work in private practice, offering home birth deliveries to their patients. Employment options available will depend on where you live and your years of experience.

Demand for Nurse Midwives: Job Growth & Career Outlook

Nurse midwives are part of the growing trend to reduce lengthy hospital stays and reduce the overall use of C-sections during birth. As this push continues, the demand for CNMs will likely increase as well.

The BLS predicts job opportunities for nurse midwives will grow 31% by 2026, a rate that’s more than 4 times that of the national average for all occupations.

Ready to Get Started?

The first step to getting started on your path to nurse midwifery is to earn your MSN from an accredited program. If you’re ready, use the Find Schools button to explore schools that meet your needs.

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