Midwives in Iceland--'mothers of light'--look back at their history and achievements of recent years: Olof Asta Olafsdottir, Director of Midwifery Studies, University of Iceland, gives the background to one of the oldest member associations of ICM.

AuteurAsta, Olof

Midwives in Iceland are making plans to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Icelandic Midwifery Association next year, and they invite midwives from around the world to attend an international conference, Midwifery in Different Cultures of Childbirth 1-3 May 2009 (visit the webiste www.midwifery2009.is).

The programme will have workshops and symposia with the goal is to discuss burning issues in midwifery, explore links between research findings, share ideas, and compare and contrast different cultures of midwifery practice in the world.

It is appropriate for such an anniversary to also look back in time and present to other midwives in the world how midwifery in this country has evolved over those years.

Historical overview

By law, midwifery is a self-governing profession and midwives in Iceland have always been entitled to care for women on their own responsibility. At all births women have a documented midwife.

Formal midwifery training within an emerging health system started as early as in 1761 under the supervision of the first Medical Director of Health. At the time, the first educated midwife, Margarethe KJB Magnussen (1718-1805) who was Danish, was called to Iceland to undertake the role of supervising and teaching midwifery in the capital of Reykjavik. In 1924, by new law, the professional name of the midwife was registered as ljosmodir or 'Mother of Light'. Since 1996, midwifery education in Iceland takes place at the University of Iceland.

The second part of the 19th century and the early 20th was characterised by rapid development of professional medicine as well as of midwifery and the number of trained midwives increased considerably. In 1800 there were 13, in 1875 the number was 76 and now there are about 250 practicing midwives in Iceland.

Maternity services in Iceland

These services are free of charge at the point of care as all Icelanders have health insurance paid by tax, in accordance with the Social Security Act.

The system of maternity care is fragmented, as it is in many countries, but one should note the difference in the magnitude and complexity of the maternity...

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