A lay midwife is a non-medical, often self-trained professional who assists women during childbirth, typically in a home setting. They might gain their skills through apprenticeships, self-study, or informal programs. Unlike certified or nurse midwives, lay midwives may not have formal healthcare education or licensure, but are valued for their experience and the personal care they provide.

Key Takeaways

  1. Lay midwives are non-medical individuals, often experienced mothers or respected women in their communities, who provide care and support to pregnant women throughout their pregnancy, during childbirth, and in the postpartum period.
  2. They typically do not have formal medical training, instead their knowledge is based on hands-on experience, traditional practices, and sometimes courses or self-study. However, they practice a philosophy of care that emphasizes natural childbirth and avoids unnecessary medical interventions.
  3. While lay midwives can offer a more holistic and personalized experience, they may lack the training to handle complications during childbirth and might not be legally recognized in some regions. Therefore, it’s important to consider the advantages and risks associated with their services, and always have a back-up plan for medical intervention if needed.


The term “Lay Midwife” is significant in the context of motherhood as it refers to a type of midwife who is generally self-taught or educated through informal means, such as apprenticeship.

Lay midwives play an essential role in maternity care, especially in regions where formal healthcare facilities are scarce or inaccessible.

They offer vital support to mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatal period.

Their understanding of the local culture, customs, and practices often make their care more holistic, personalized, and trusted within communities.

Therefore, their role is crucial in promoting the safety, wellbeing, and empowerment of mothers worldwide.


The term “Lay Midwife” refers to a non-medical, often self-taught or informally trained individual who assists women during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum period. Their primary focus is natural childbirth and they mainly practice in home-birth settings, although they can also work in birthing centers.

Lay midwives are intended to provide a more personalized and holistic approach to maternity care, often nurturing close relationships with the women they serve and incorporating various traditional practices and rituals into their care. Lay midwives uphold the belief that childbirth is a normal life event rather than a medical condition, which shapes their practice and purpose.

They are facilitators, advocates, and caregivers, offering emotional, physical, and informational support throughout the pregnancy journey. A lay midwife might help with creating birth plans, prenatal care, providing continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery, and offering support postpartum.

They aim to empower women to have the natural childbirth experience they desire and strive to make the process as calm, controlled, and comfortable as possible. In places where traditional healthcare might be inaccessible or unaffordable, lay midwives offer invaluable support, providing basic maternal care to those who might otherwise go without.

Examples of Lay midwife

Ina May Gaskin: Often considered the “mother of authentic midwifery,” she has been an active lay midwife since the 1970s and has written several books on natural childbirth. She started her own community in rural Tennessee called “The Farm,” which includes a birth center where she continues to help deliver babies.

Mary Francis Hill Coley: Known as “Miss Mary,” she served as a lay midwife in the rural South of the United States from 1920s to 1960s, delivering more than 3,000 babies in Georgia. Despite having little formal education, her skills were well respected in the community, and she played a key role in the medical, social, and cultural life of her area.

Traditional Birth Attendants in Developing Countries: In many remote or impoverished areas, professional medical care is not accessible or affordable. Lay midwives, often called “traditional birth attendants,” are relied upon to assist in childbirth. They rely on centuries-old knowledge and can be vital to the maternity care in these regions. They are especially prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lay Midwives

1. What is a lay midwife?

A lay midwife is a person who is not certified or licensed as a midwife but has been trained informally through self-study or apprenticeship.

2. What is the role of a lay midwife?

Lay midwives provide prenatal care, deliver babies, and offer postpartum care. Although they do not have formal medical qualifications, they are often knowledgeable about natural childbirth and traditional remedies.

3. What is the difference between a lay midwife and a certified midwife?

The main difference between them is the level of training and certification. Certified midwives are trained healthcare professionals who have undergone extensive medical training and passed a certification examination. On the other hand, lay midwives learn through informal channels and do not have medical certification.

4. Is a lay midwife legal?

The legality of midwife practice, including lay midwives, varies greatly by location. In some places, they are legal, but there may be guidelines and restrictions on their practice. It is important to understand your local laws regarding midwifery.

5. What are the benefits of having a lay midwife?

Lay midwives often offer a more personalized approach to care and traditional remedies not found in modern medicine. They may offer home births, which can be a comfort for families who prefer natural childbirth methods in a familiar environment.

6. How can I find a lay midwife?

Word of mouth is a common way to find a lay midwife. Community groups, mothers’ circles, and natural health communities may be able to refer a lay midwife. Always remember to ask for references and interview prospective midwives to ensure they align with your birth plan.

Related Motherhood Terms

  • Natural Childbirth
  • Doula Support
  • Birthing Pool
  • Prenatal Care
  • Home Birth

Sources for More Information