The essential needs of childbearing women in all countries, and of their babies and families, are the focus of this thought-provoking series of international studies on midwifery. Many of those needs are still not being met, decades after they have been recognized. New solutions are required. The Series provides a framework for quality maternal and newborn care (QMNC) that firmly places the needs of women and their newborn infants at its centre. It is based on a definition of midwifery that takes account of skills, attitudes and behaviours rather than specific professional roles. The findings of this Series support a shift from fragmented maternal and newborn care provision that is focussed on identification and treatment of pathology to a whole-system approach that provides skilled care for all. This will require effective multidisciplinary teamwork and integration across hospital and community. The evidence discussed across the series indicates that midwifery is pivotal to this approach.