Become a Midwife

Become A Midwife

Doula and Midwife assist a waterbirth at home. Baby born in The Caul. Photo by Monet Moultrie

As steadfast guardians of life and blenders of the best of science and tradition, midwives hold the promise of a world of health for all in their hands.”

-Robbie Davis-Floyd, Ph.D., Medical Anthropologist

Nurse-MidwiferyDirect-Entry Midwifery

 Become A Midwife Consultation | Resources for Aspiring Midwives

Download PDF: Comparison of Types of U.S. MidwivesPDF Logo 16px (from American College of Nurse-Midwives)

Listen to Webinar on Vimeo

An Overview of State Licensure for CPMs from NACPM.

Which states have licensing for CPMs? What variations exist from state to state? This webinar will address your questions about CPM licensing, including the complexities of various state statutes and the implications for states looking to gain or amend existing legislation. 1.5 MEAC CEUs available.

Overview of Legality of Certified Professional Midwives in the U.S.



We offer consultations to help persons who want to learn about pathways to become a midwife. Suggested donation is $50.00 per hour. Includes materials.  These consultations will help aspiring midwives:

  • Learn about the types of midwives and their educational pathways in the U.S.
  • Compare and Contrast the Pros and Cons of the Nurse-Midwifery Pathway and the Certified Professional Midwife/Licensed Midwife Pathway
  • Learn about midwifery training programs and learning opportunities in CA, National, International
  • Determine income potential in this profession
  • Get tips on how to obtain supervised clinical instruction (formerly called “apprenticeship”)
  • Understand licensing and certification processes and midwifery laws
  • Gain insight into the realities of the midwifery profession
  • Get tips on how to get started
  • Includes resource booklet prepared by consultant
  • Helpful information for foreign-trained midwives seeking to work in the U.S.
  • Helpful for out-of-state CPMs, CNMs or LMs considering  practice in California

Midwifery: Calling or Profession?

Whether midwifery is a “calling” or a “profession” is a long-standing debate in midwifery circles, according to  Betty Ann Daviss, Midwife and Researcher, who writes in  Mainstreaming Midwives: The Politics of Change (New York: Routledge, 2006,  edited by Robbie Davis-Floyd, Ph.D. and Christine Barbara Johnson).   According to Daviss, whether you are called “to transform each mother during the sacred act of birth,”  and “save womankind from  counterfeit birth” or  seeing to “advance midwifery through an increasingly technological birth landscape dominated by medicine,” the essential nature of being a midwife in North America today  is to be an agent for change and  to have  a lifelong engagement as a  “social activist and advocate for women” (p. 414).

There are two basic routes of entry into midwifery  in the U.S. — through  nursing or entering the profession directly without first becoming a nurse; hence called “direct-entry” midwifery. Each  route has its particular benefits and limitations and  have  different roadmaps to get to the same destination: to be  “qualified”  to  ‘catch babies’.  Each person contemplating this journey should consider the realities of getting  an education,  the influence of the social environment and the  paradigm of practice  in which  they will learn the trade; as this will shape the kind of midwife they will become, no matter which credential they earn.

Routes of Entry into The Midwifery Profession

Birth SistahsFirst, choose the type of Midwife you want to be: Nurse-Midwife or Direct-Entry Midwife. Consider the  Pros and Cons of each type of midwife.  Choose carefully which path suits your lifestyle and future plans, and personal philosophy and view about birth. Either route into midwifery  can be a long and arduous road. Some midwives have commented that had they known what they know now, they might have chosen the alternate path. So consider carefully before you begin your journey. There are many shades in between as well, so consider all your options before you embark. The lifestyle of a midwife is a rigorous one. So we suggest you become a doula first and learn how you deal with the challenges of being a birth-worker.

In the United States today, there are two pathways into the midwifery profession: The Nurse-Midwifery Route and the Direct-Entry Route. Midwives  are the experts in  normal pregnancy and birth,  and care for pregnant women giving birth at home, birth centers or in hospitals. Midwives also offer contraception, gynecological services and menopausal care to women. Nurse-Midwives are trained in both the disciplines of nursing and midwifery and  attend 5-6% of births in America and primarily work in hospital  and clinic settings, as well as birth centers and homes. Direct-Entry midwives, who are not trained as nurses, attend approximately 1-2% of births in America and primarily work in out of hospital settings, including clinics, birth centers and homes.


Nurse Midwives are trained in two disciplines: nursing and midwifery. They are specialists in woman’s gynecological health care throughout the lifespan.

Nurse-Midwife measures woman’s belly during prenatal care.

To become a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) the first step is to  be a Registered Nurse (RN).  Any educational level degree in nursing is sufficient: Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN). Many nursing education programs are now offering a bridge program, which allows a person with a Bachelors Degree in a non-nursing subject to earn a second Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nursing. Several years of prerequisites in microbiology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology and general liberal arts and humanities is also required to obtain an undergraduate degree. However, some Nurse-Midwifery programs do not require a BSN, an ADN and RN license is the minimal requirement. Usually, Nurse-Midwifery education programs require one to two years of experience working in obstetrical nursing, woman’s gynecological care or labor and delivery in a hospital or clinic or work as a doula  to be considered as a candidate for a nurse- midwifery program, which takes about two years to complete. Candidates may earn either a Master’s or a Certificate, or if the candidate already has a Masters Degree (in any subject), a Post-Masters Certificate. Master’s degree programs require a Thesis; Certificate and Post-Masters programs do not. The Master’s degree may be required for teaching or positions of greater responsibility. Nurse-Midwifery study consists of course work, skill development and clinical supervision by Nurse-Midwives either in a hospital, clinic or out-of-hospital setting; some programs require a combination of in-hospital and out-of-hospital clinical training. Training consists of midwifery care plus well-woman gynecology care. After completing the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME) program, the candidate must pass the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) board examination to obtain certification as a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). Learn more about becoming a Nurse-Midwife.

Alternate Avenues for Nurse-Midwifery Study

Pioneer Nurse-Midwife Mary Breckinridge

In Kentucky in the 1920′s, British-immigrant Mary Breckenridge enlisted nurse-midwives to impact the crisis of maternal and fetal mortality in rural Appalachia. This background in both disciplines of nursing and midwifery was vital when caring for the impoverished pregnant women and children of this region who had a plethora of health and social problems. These pioneer nurse-midwives were considered “unprofessional” when they rode on horseback because there were no roads, but they succeeded in lowering infant mortality to below national averages and gave birth to the modern nurse-midwifery profession.

Nurse-Midwife making home visit to family in Appalachia, circa 1930s

In 1939, The Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing was established. (Renamed New Frontier Nursing University). Since 1982, The Community Based Nurse-Midwifery Education Program has been giving nurses who cannot relocate the opportunity to study from home. Registered Nurses who have bachelor’s degrees may pace themselves through a mentored, two year program of study from a distance by use of personal computer, modem and fax. The clinical portion of the training can be set up locally with nurse-midwife preceptors.

A newer program is Philadelphia University, which offers distance learning and intensive short-term on-site training in Philadelphia, PA. Supervised clinical training is available in the students local community with CNM preceptors. They offer advanced placement for Nurse-Practitioners, and a Post-Masters certificate for those with Masters Degrees in degrees other than Nurse-Midwifery. Their minimum requirement is RN license and an Associates Degree in Nursing. They also offer credit for persons who have attended an accredited midwifery school. In addition, Philadelphia University has an option for Certified Professional Midwives/Licensed Midwives to become Certified Nurse-Midwives through their Advanced Placement Program. This is an option as part of the M.S. in Midwifery and the Post Master’s Certificate. Qualifying individuals are nurse practitioners, foreign educated midwives and MEAC-educated, licensed, and Certified Professional Midwives.

There are other programs throughout the U.S. offering distance and traditional university-based on-campus learning, often affiliated with teaching hospitals and/or freestanding birth centers. See: distance learning programs and On-campus programs in California.


The term “Direct-Entry” refers  to persons who were not nurses before entering the midwifery profession. This route is sometimes referred to as “Non-Nurse Midwifery” (Certified Professional Midwives & Licensed Midwives fall into this category).

The Direct-Entry Midwife enters the profession not through becoming a nurse first, but by self-directed study and experience, or apprenticeship with a senior midwife or attendance at a Direct-Entry Midwifery Training Program.


Midwife examines a woman in labor at her home.

Many become certified and/or licensed once they graduate from their training program or school and curriculum is geared towards meeting professional standards for licensure and certification.  Most programs are non-accredited, do not offer federal financial aid and are distance-learning programs (online or traditional pen and paper). Students must find supervised clinical training  and someone to guide their academic studies with professional midwives in their own community or relocate to find a midwife preceptor.

There are very few university-based programs for direct-entry midwifery. Seattle Midwifery School, one of the first midwifery schools in the United States, as of March 2010 merged with Bastyr University and now offers a Master’s degree in Midwifery for students with a Bachelors degree or a combined Bachelors/Masters degree for students who have completed at least two years of college coursework at the undergraduate level (60 semester or 90 quarter credits) including the general education and basic science prerequisites. Located in Seattle, Washington, the program is intended for entry-level midwifery students and is three years in length (11 quarters), culminating in either an articulated Bachelor/Master of Science in Midwifery or simply a Master of Science in Midwifery (depending on entry level of education). Completion of the program qualifies a graduate to sit for examinations to become licensed as a midwife in Washington or other states, registered in Canadian provinces, and nationally certified by the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) as a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). Financial aid is available, but limited.

The Bastyr University Midwifery Program  first regionally accredited (Washington state and Canada), articulated, direct-entry Master of Science in Midwifery degree in the country. Midwifery students train with preceptors in a variety of clinics, homebirth settings, birth centers and hospitals in North America and overseas. The format is hybrid of on-site and distance learning; which allows students to remain in their communities and commute to Seattle at the Bastyr campus three times each quarter (once per month, for a 3-7 days). When not physically on campus, students use the Internet classroom to correspond with classmates and instructors, participate in discussions, complete homework, and take tests, for about 30 hours per week, plus clinical attendance and births with midwife-preceptors in their own community.

Program Eligibility

The Master of Science in Midwifery is available to students who already hold a bachelor’s degree. The combined bachelor’s/master’s option is available to students who have completed at least two years at the undergraduate level (60 semester or 90 quarter credits) Graduates of midwifery schools desiring certification and licensure may become Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) by completing the accreditation process through  North American Registry of Midwives (NARM). They may also become Licensed Midwives (LMs) if their state has a mechanism for licensure.

Other California Direct-Entry Midwifery Programs

There is also a midwifery school in San Diego Nizhoni Midwifery Institute which is a three-year on-site program preparing students to become Certified Professional Midwives/Licensed Midwives in California. Nizhoni is not degree granting, but has an arrangement with National College of Midwifery once students have obtained their Certified Professional Midwife/Licensed Midwife credential to obtain Associates, Bachelor’s, Masters and Doctoral degrees.

For a list of direct-entry midwifery programs  throughout the U.S., go to: Midwifery Education Accreditation Council (MEAC).

To check on the status of direct-entry midwifery licensure in your state, go to:

Certified Midwives (CMs)

Certified Midwives are relatively new professionals to the health care field but their education closely mirrors the education for Certified Nurse-Midwives. CMs are not registered nurses (RNs), but may hold other professional designations as health care providers such as a Physician Assistant (PA) or Physical Therapist(PT). The American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) established a The Certified Midwife (CM) credential and validates it through the ACC. Individuals choosing this career path will likely be pioneers in the profession, much like the early nurse-midwives who practiced in the U.S. Certified Midwives are individuals who have or receive a background in a health related field other than nursing and graduate from a midwifery education program accredited by the ACNM department of accreditation. The mechanisms to educate and credential CMs were approved in 1994. Initiated in the state of New York in 1992 as a means to free nurse-midwives from the constraints imposed by boards of nursing and nursing administration in hospitals and as a means to provide a streamlined pathway to licensure for foreign-trained non-nurse midwives, the intent was to provide more midwives for hospital practice, not to provide legality for homebirth-trained midwives. The main point of departure between the ACC and NARM (which oversees the certification of Certified Professional Midwives) is the issue of the superiority of university-based education. NARM validates multiple routes of entry into the midwifery profession, where the ACNM/ACC steadfastly claims a university-based education is required for midwifery practice. Graduates of an ACNM accredited midwifery education program takethe same national certification examination as CNMs but receive the professional designation of Certified Midwife. CMs must attend a university-based program to become educated in the same core competencies for basic practice as CNMs, and practice in accord with the same standards for practice, philosophy, and code of ethics as nurse-midwives. Currently there is only one university-based program offering this degree at SUNY-Downstate located in Brooklyn, NY. Currently, there are only three states which recognizes the Certified Midwife credential or offers an educational program to become a Certified Midwife, although universities outside of New York state offering nurse-midwifery education may add this option to their programs of study in the years to come. Contact the ACNM for updates.

Certified Professional Midwives

Midwife listens to baby’s heartbeat during labor at home, Doula supports mother.

The North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) established a national certification procedure, where midwives who go through the process may become Certified Professional Midwives” (CPMs). This “competency-based credential”, recognizes midwives from all routes of education: apprenticeship, self-directed study, midwifery school, nursing programs, etc., who meet the criteria required for certification. Certified Professional Midwives are legal in some U.S. states, but not all. In California, it is not a legal recognition. Graduates of NARM-approved midwifery schools will be granted CPM credentials. They may then take the midwifery licensing exam offered by the state in which they plan to practice — if licensure is available or desired.

The Scoop on California Midwifery

In California, licensure has been available since 1993 with the passage of the Licensed Midwifery Practice Act  legalizing non-nurse-midwives. Licensed Midwives (LMs) are regulated and licensed by The California Medical Board, the same entity which regulates and licenses other medical professionals, including obstetrician- gynecologists. For more information on Licensed Midwives in California, go to The California Medical Board Division of Midwifery Licensing. In California, the apprenticeship route is not a legal pathway. Students must be formally enrolled in a California Medical Board approved midwifery school and obtain supervised clinical training under a California Licensed Midwife  whose license is free and clear of restriction and has been in practice for a minimum of two years. Furthermore, the preceptor midwife  must be  formally approved by the student’s school to be an instructor.

The California Midwifery Challenge Process

The challenge process is a mechanism which permits Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) to become licensed in California. In the state, Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) are not legally recognized. Certified Professional Midwives who opt for legal recognition in California must go through the Challenge Process to become a California Licensed Midwife (LM). The Medical Board has approved National Midwifery Institute (in Vermont) and Maternidad de Luz (in El Paso, TX) to administer the Challenge Process. As of 2010, the minimum requirement for entering a challenge program is to be a CPM. Contact the approved schools to learn about their California Midwifery Licensing Challenge Process. For a list of schools approved to administer the challenge, see California Medical Board Midwifery Licensing Challenge Process.

Homebirth (Circa 1972) Photo by Howard Brainen

Three decades after the homebirth renaissance in America, the trend is towards standardized educational and experiential requirements for non-nurse-midwives, and obtaining legal status and professional certification. (See: The Big Push For Midwives, a national legislative campaign to legalize non-nurse midwifery in all 50 states). The benefit of this is that now expectant parents will be assured that the midwife they have chosen has a minimal level of competency and midwives  will maintain standards of quality and professionalism. Though the absence of a license or certification does not necessarily mean that a midwife is incompetent, likewise, the  presence of a license or certification does not mean the midwife has the wisdom gained from many years of practice. Many traditional “lay” midwives (some who are “conscientious objectors” to licensure or practice in communities where legality is not an option or cultural tradition) have the good judgment that comes from years of experience. Some of their colleagues would agree that they are qualified and competent. In fact, due to licensure, restrictions on practice have emerged such as prohibition of Licensed Midwives to deliver twins, breeches or a VBAC mother at home.  In these cases, it may the lay midwife who attends the birth. However, practicing midwifery without a license is considered a misdemeanor or felony in some states and unlicensed midwives who attend births are at risk for prosecution.

The path that you choose to take to become a midwife is as personal as a woman’s decision of where to have their baby. Nurse-Midwives are having a positive impact upon hospital births; many women feel secure giving birth in a hospital where emergency equipment, pain medication and medical doctors are readily available, yet want the quality, personalized care they receive from nurse-midwives. Yet, there will always be women who feel most comfortable giving birth outside the hospital, in their own homes or in birthing centers. Today’s upcoming midwives have many opportunities for formalized training that our midwife-ancestors did not because of the trailblazing efforts of midwives who have tirelessly campaigned for legalization, trained apprentices, established schools, established protocols for practice and certification. The midwives of tomorrow will establish independent birth centers, deliver babies in homes and in hospitals, work in clinics with women’s health care practices, work overseas to help reduce maternal and infant deaths, become midwife-educators and public health policy-makers.


Midwifery Schools for Becoming a CPM/LM

For a list of current California Medical Board approved midwifery training programs click here. All California midwifery students must be enrolled in one of these approved schools prior to beginning their supervised clinical training. Apprenticeship is no longer a legal pathway to licensure in California.

As defined in statute, the challenge process allows students to obtain credit by examination for previous midwifery education and clinical experience. The challenge program at the following approved midwifery schools has been accepted:


Maternidad La Luz


National Midwifery Institute, Inc.


Childbirth Assistant and Childbirth Educator Training

Birthing From Within
81 David Love Pl, #207
Goleta, CA 93117

International Birth and Wellness Project (IWBP) and The Organization of Labor Assistants for Birthing Options and Resources (TO-LABOR) formerly the Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators (ALACE)

International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA)
PO Box 20048
Minneapolis, MN 55420-0048

The Bradley Method
American Academy of Husband – Coached Childbirth (AAHCI)
PO Box 5224
Sherman Oaks, CA 91413

2025 M Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036

P.O. Box 2045
Medford, NJ 08055
888-TO-BIRTH (862-4784)

Doulas of North America (DONA)
P.O. Box 626
Jasper, Indiana 47547
(888) 788-DONA (3662)


Midwifery Today
PO Box 2672
Eugene, OR 97402
Mothering Magazine

Mothering Magazine
PO Box 1690
Santa Fe, NM 87504
Phone: 505-984-8116

Journal of Nurse-Midwifery
Elsevier North Holland
Vanderbilt Ave.
New York, NY 10017

Aspiring Midwives Reading List

by Helen Varney

Maternity and Women’s Health Care 
by Lowdermilk, Perry and Bobak

Human Labor and Birth
by Oxorne & Foote

A Textbook for Midwives 
by Margaret Myles

A Guide to Physical Examination 
by Barbara Bates

Becoming A Midwife
by Caroline Steiger

Paths to Midwifery: Getting an Education
Published by Midwifery Today Magazine

Holistic Midwifery
by Ann Frye

Heart and Hands
by Elizabeth Davis

Understanding Diagnostic Tests in the Childbearing Year
by Ann Frye

Spiritual Midwifery 
by Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives

Helping Hands: The Apprentice’s Workbook
by Carla Hartley
available through Ancient Art Midwifery Institute


International Center for Traditional Childbearing (Black Midwives Association)

Located in Portland Oregon, they offer Full Circle Doula Training in various places around the U.S. and an Annual Black Midwives and Healers Conference for Black Midwives and aspiring  doulas and midwives of African heritage.

The Farm Midwifery Workshops
Contact: Pamela Hunt
42 The Farm
Summertown, TN 38483

Coalition for Improving Maternity Services-CIMS

California Association of Midwives (CAM)

About the Author


Cordelia Hanna, MPH, CHES, ICCE, CLE, CBA

Cordelia Hanna, MPH, CHES, CCE, CLE, CBA has been a midwifery activist and student of midwifery and childbirth for two decades. She has attended births in hospitals, birth centers and homes since 1991. She is apprenticeship-trained and has been a primary midwife under supervision and has assisted several homebirth midwives in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. She is also a hospital labor companion and monitrice and postpartum doula and has taught childbirth preparation classes to hundreds of parents for over two decades. She also trains aspiring midwives, aspiring doulas and breastfeeding peer counselors. She has a Masters in Public Health in Health Education and Promotion/Maternal Child Health from Loma Linda University and is a Certified Childbirth Educator (ICEA) and Certified Birth Assistant (ALACE) and Certified Lactation Educator (CAPPA). She is passionate about promoting mother and baby friendly care in the U.S. and working to reduce perinatal health disparities in America and Africa through the preservation of the midwifery model of care to engender a more equitable maternity care system for all. She is  mother of two home-born, breastfed, family-bedded children who are now bright and capable young adults. She is the Executive Director and Founder of Wholistic Midwifery School of Southern California DBA The Association for Wholistic Maternal and Newborn Health, located in Los Angeles, California.