Male midwives - a handful of people changing the rules

Women are increasingly represented in every working environment, but for men there is still one taboo.

Gender equality in employment has made huge progress over the last century and Australia is ahead of the curve as one of the few countries in the world to have elected a female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. 

The idea that there are professions that women would be excluded from, based purely on their gender, is pretty much internationally recognised as old fashioned and unacceptable.

But, on the other hand, there are certain working environments in which it would be rare to see a man. Front line health care, for example, is a major one.

In Australia, there are 337,807 nurses and of those only 33,891 are male (2012 stats from NCAH). This is roughly a tenth. That may not sound like a lot, but is the result of a major increase in recent decades and demonstrates considerable growth and changes in social expectations around gender categories and behaviours.

However, the same cannot be said for midwifery. In Australia there are just nine male registered midwives. This is nothing unique to Australia:

  • 2% of midwives in the USA are men
  • 0.5% of midwives in the UK are men

There is nothing actually standing in the way of men training to be midwives, it is just uncommon and for various reasons, it is more difficult.

Interestingly though, the job title remains the same whether the practitioner is male or female. The word ‘midwife’ comes from Middle English and it means ‘with-woman’, so the ‘wife’ element refers to the pregnant lady rather than the person helping her.

On the popular parenting web forum Mumsnet, there is a long running debate about how comfortable people would be about having a man accompany them in the delivery room.

MyBaby1day says:“Awful idea...I wouldn’t want to be seen by any other man other than my partner”

Whereas Moominsarescary says:“It wouldn’t bother me at all, my consultant is male and fantastic.”

And WorryDoll says:“As a midwife I have worked with one or two male midwives and they have been brilliant. One of them I knew really well and, in comparison with some female midwives, I would have chosen him any day.”

While there may still be a taboo for some, particularly people with strong religious convictions, there are men working in maternity wards and they’re working extra hard to change the way people feel about male midwives.