19/02/2010 10:39 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

L: What Is A Lay Midwife?

A lay midwife is an individual who is not medically qualified as a midwife, but has gained experience and expertise of pregnancy and childbirth and practises midwifery on an unqualified, informal basis.

It is perfectly legal to become a lay midwife and to use one, but it does mean that she or he cannot manage a pregnant woman's medical care on an official basis.

Lay midwifery is a practice that is centuries old. Before formal medical care, most women's pregnancies and births were overseen by local women who had gained skills, knowledge, proficiency and capability within what is now known as maternity care.

This could often be a family member, or a notable women within the local community, and was probably a mother herself.

Due to their independent and informal role, and because they are not bound by official medical codes of ethics, a lay midwife has total autonomy when providing care for a woman. For this reason, some women prefer this style of midwifery, and find a lay midwife a more reassuring and comforting presence. Their presence is increasingly common at homebirths. However, you will also need a qualified midwife with you for the actual birth.

It is possible to locate a lay midwife within most local communities. Any woman looking to use a lay midwife should always ask for full details of the midwife's skills, knowledge and experience of childbirth to ensure the individual is trustworthy and the care provided is safe.

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