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The Midwife Profession in Singapore

Midwifery is a term used to describe a medical specialty within the medical fraternity. In the early years, practitioners of midwifery are known as midwives. They provide prenatal and postnatal care to the mothers and infants. In the absence of an obstetrician, some midwives also had the daunting task of delivering breech births. In Singapore, the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Services was set up in 1910 as registration and treatment centres to provide maternity care for local women, especially those from the low-income families. These government midwives had to first battle against local women’s staunch traditional and superstitious beliefs. Traditional midwives known as bidans for the Malays and “jiesheng fu” for the Chinese played a vital role in Singapore during the colonial period. Mdm Cheng Choo Hui, who was a former government midwife since 1937, exclaimed “The teochew people are most afraid to go to the hospitals… we have a lot of difficulty trying to get the women to deliver their babies at the hospital!”

Midwives duties include making house calls and providing delivery and domiciliary aftercare services. Some of them received training under the late President Dr. Benjamin Sheares at the Kandang Kerbau Hospital (KKH). Ms. Cheng who worked at the KKH remembers, “we received training under Dr. Sheares twice a week for 1 hour in the afternoon…on how to deliver babies… We also have on the job training under Dr. Sheares for pregnant women who came for regular visits…how to listen to the stomach and the position of the baby… Not all babies were in the right position, which is head first, at the time of birth… There were some that had the legs and hands that were positioned first after the head… For these cases we tend to advise them to deliver the baby in the hospital and not in their homes.” (In Teochew dialect)

Later in the 1950s, these government midwives were being tasked to handle certain districts of the island city-state as well as make house calls and aftercare services in the rural areas. Hence, they were known as “District Midwives” and “Health midwives” during this period. In 1975, a new Nurses and Midwives Act was passed so that both nurses and midwives came under one professional body.

 

Information extracted from the Oral History Interview of Mdm CHENG Choo Hui
Midwife
Accession No: 001217