Eight thousand generations of traditional midwives

Eight thousand generations of traditional midwives
Birth of the Virgin. Oil painting, Luis de Morales © Museo del Prado.

Eight thousand generations of traditional midwives

Replacing traditional midwives with professional ones began in Europe at the end of the 19th century, so that in 2015 99% of deliveries in this region were attended to by professional midwives. In poorer countries the process began almost 100 years later, during a long transitional period when professional levels of study were created, and the progressive certification of the first generation of professional midwives.

In 2015 75% of deliveries worldwide were supervised by professional midwives, with most active traditional midwives being found in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where they are still the main support for maternal-infant health.

In the picture, a mother receives hot soup from the midwife and food from her neighbours, one of whom breastfeeds the newborn child –already swaddled- until the mother’s milk starts to come. What can be seen in the painting coincides closely with the attention offered by traditional midwives in some parts of rural Spain in the 20th century, including the swaddling of the baby and the presence of a breast-feeder.