Introduction: Help at birth is one of the historically oldest volunteers supports that a woman has offered to another woman. One of the reasons for high maternal and infant mortality was identified as a lack of basic medical knowledge among the woman who helped during birth and this required immediate action to secure the survival of nations. When the Church and government made demands for education and professional license, the voluntary help at birth transformed into an educated and paid profession for women. The study aimed to describe the evolution of women’s education and the midwifery profession in Nordic countries from the 1600s until today.
Methods: Historical and contemporary documents, research and grey literature, are drawn together to provide a historical description of the midwifery professional development and education in Nordic countries.
Results: In the Nordic countries, governments from the 1600s had significant problems with high maternal and infant mortality. Most vulnerable were unmarried women and their children. To change the trend, northern countries had been inspired by France, Holland, England, and Germany, which had introduced education and a professional license for midwives. The targeted and systematic investment in midwifery education, followed by industrialization and welfare development in Nordic countries, has resulted in one of the highest survival rates for mothers and infants in the world today. In parallel with this, it has created the first female paid profession in history. Today, midwifery education is at the university level in all Nordic countries, and the certified midwife is responsible for pre- and post-natal care and normal birth. In Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, the midwife’s responsibility also includes contraception counseling and prescription of drugs for birth control purposes.
Conclusions: The education and professional licenses have contributed to a progressively improved care of birth women and infants. The professional and licensed midwife is positioned in society as an essential player in the current development of pre- and post-natal care. Furthermore, the graduated and licensed midwife positioned herself as the first paid professional female profession in modern history.
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