You are here

Should You Use a Midwife?

The history of midwifery

1550 B.C.

The Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical text, contains guidance on midwifery

1000 B.C.

The Book of Genesis describes the midwife-assisted birth of Tamar's twins

5th Century B.C.

A Roman physician writes that a midwife "must have a healthy mind...and long fingers with nails cut short"

1400-1600 A.D.

Some European midwives are burned as witches

Early 1600s

Male physicians in Europe begin attending births of the wealthy, promising safer and quicker deliveries


Midwife Brigit Lee Fuller attends three births on the Mayflower as it sails to the New World


English midwife Elizabeth Nihell criticizes physicians' surgical approach to childbirth


Competition from doctors forces European midwives to practice primarily among the poor


Midwives attend 50 percent of U.S. births; physicians entering a new specialty, obstetrics, campaign to discredit them


Massachusetts is the first state to outlaw midwifery; several other Northeastern states follow


Middle-class women flock to hospitals that offer the promise of painless childbirth in the form of "Twilight Sleep"


A prominent obstetrician writes that, among other things, midwives are "filthy and ignorant"

Early 1930s

Midwives attend 15 percent of U.S. births; the first U.S. nurse-midwifery school opens in New York City

Early 1950s

The baby boom leaves OBs with too many births to handle; some promote nurse-midwives as the best way to deal with the overflow


Competition from doctors and CNMs, as well as laws prohibiting its practice, nearly eradicates lay midwifery in the U.S.

Early 1970s

Beginning of grass-roots natural child-birth movement prompts a small resurgence in lay midwifery


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recognizes nurse-midwifery as a profession


First non-hospital birthing center, staffed by CNMs, opens in New York City


First national organization established to develop credentials for lay midwives


CNMs attend 5 percent of U.S. births, a 47 percent increase in just four years


5,000 CNMs and 4,000 lay midwives practicing in U.S.; 45 accredited nurse-midwifery training programs in operation