Maternity care in Australia
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, there are many different options for care and support during the pregnancy and birth. This article describes options for pregnancy care, where to give birth and the costs involved – so you can make the choices that are best for you.
If you have just found out you are pregnant, it’s important to see your doctor (GP) or midwife to start your antenatal care. They will discuss different options for care during the pregnancy and birth.
Who will I see during my pregnancy?
There are 3 types of health professionals that could look after you during your pregnancy, depending on where you are having your baby and your health needs.
A midwife is specially trained to support and care for women during pregnancy, labour and birth. Midwives work in public and private hospitals, with obstetricians, and in the community. They help you to stay healthy in pregnancy. If there are no complications, they can also help you to give birth. Midwives also care for you and your baby in the first few weeks after the birth.
General practitioners (GPs) are medical doctors who promote general health and treat many different health problems. Often your GP will be the first health professional you see if you think you are pregnant.
Some GPs offer shared care, where you see your GP as well as midwives or obstetricians for your pregnancy care. If you live in a rural or remote area, your GP might provide all of your pregnancy care as well as deliver your baby.
An obstetrician is a doctor who is specially trained to look after women and babies during pregnancy, birth and straight after birth. You might choose to have an obstetrician look after you throughout your pregnancy and to deliver your baby. If you are having your baby in a public hospital, you might only see an obstetrician if there is a medical need.
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What are my maternity care options?
There are several options for where you could have your baby. It depends on whether this is your first baby, whether there are complications, and where you live.
Making the best choice for you depends on what’s important for you and your partner. For example, do you want to see the same doctor or midwife at every visit? What medical intervention or pain relief would you like, and what can you afford? To make your decision, it’s a good idea to talk to your friends and family about their birth experiences. Your doctor (GP) can discuss your options and what’s best for you.
Public hospital: Most women in Australia give birth in a public hospital. If you choose to give birth in a public hospital, midwives will look after you during the pregnancy and birth. A doctor will see you if there are complications. You will probably see different midwives in a team throughout the pregnancy, and you will not be able to choose your doctor. You will give birth either in a labour ward or at a birthing centre. Care during the pregnancy and birth is mostly free. The first step is to see your doctor who will discuss the options at different hospitals in your area and give you a referral.
Private hospital: If you decide to give birth in a private hospital, you will be cared for by an obstetrician. You will see the same obstetrician throughout the pregnancy and develop a relationship with them. Midwives will usually look after you during the labour and the obstetrician will be there for the birth. You will probably stay in hospital for a few days afterwards. Most women pay the costs of private hospital care with their health insurance. The first step is to see your doctor for a referral to an obstetrician, who will then book you into the private hospital.
Birthing centre: Birthing centres provide a more natural, home-like environment to give birth than a hospital. They are an option if your pregnancy is low-risk and the birth is expected to be uncomplicated. You will be cared for by a midwife or team of midwives through the pregnancy. You might also see an obstetrician if there are any complications. Birthing centres are often attached to hospitals. See your doctor as soon as possible to find out what’s in your area and book in.
Home birth: You can choose to have your baby at home as long as it is a low-risk pregnancy. You might still be transferred to hospital during the birth if there are any complications. If you want to have a home birth, you will usually be cared for during the pregnancy by a private midwife. If any problems develop, you may need to see an obstetrician. There are public home birth programs, run through local public hospitals. Your doctor will need to give you a referral. The other option is to find a private midwife. You can do this on the Homebirth Australia website.
Shared care: Shared care is when your pregnancy care is shared by your doctor (GP) and the hospital. You see your own doctor throughout the pregnancy and go to the hospital for some appointments. Shared care is offered mainly by public hospitals and public birthing centres. Private hospitals and home births usually don’t offer shared care.
What is antenatal care?
Antenatal care is the care you receive during pregnancy. You will have antenatal appointments throughout your pregnancy. Most women who have uncomplicated pregnancies have 10 to 12 appointments. If you’ve had a previous pregnancy with no complications, you may have about 7 to 10 appointments.
Antenatal appointments are important even if you are healthy and your pregnancy is going well. They allow your midwife or doctor to check your health and your baby’s health so they can find and treat any problems early on. These appointments are also a good opportunity for you to ask questions and talk about any concerns you have.
It’s best to make your first antenatal appointment when you are about 6 to 8 weeks pregnant. This appointment can be with a midwife, your doctor or at a clinic or hospital.
At this appointment, the doctor or midwife will confirm that you are pregnant. They will do a thorough health check, including asking about your medical history and your family’s medical history. They will also give you important information about your pregnancy care
They may also offer you tests to check for anything that may cause problems during pregnancy or labour. You can decide whether or not to have the tests.
You will then have regular appointments throughout the pregnancy. Many women have appointments every 4 to 6 weeks until 28 weeks of pregnancy, then every 2 to 3 weeks until 36 weeks of pregnancy. After that, you will probably have weekly visits until the baby is born.
You can also go to antenatal classes to help you and your partner get ready for the birth. Many hospitals run antenatal classes, or ask the doctor or midwife who is looking after you what they recommend.
Going to hospital
If it’s your first pregnancy, you may feel unsure about when you should go into hospital or the birth centre. The best thing to do is to call the hospital or birth centre for advice.
After the birth, you will probably stay in hospital from 1 to several days. How long you stay will depend on your recovery, whether you have had a caesarean birth, and whether you or your baby have any complications.
How much does it cost?
The cost of having a baby will vary depending whether give birth in the public or private system. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
In Australia, pregnancy care in a public hospital or birth centre is free because it is covered by Medicare, which covers Australian citizens and some visitors to Australia. But you won’t be able to choose your doctor or midwife.
In the private system, you can choose your doctor, but you will need to pay for the care or take out private health insurance. Medicare and your health fund will cover some of the costs of a private hospital stay, but you may still have to pay extra fees (known as 'out-of-pocket' costs).
Be sure to check that your private health insurance covers maternity care and if there is a waiting time before you can claim.
It can be difficult to understand the costs of different care options. Talk to your doctor, hospital or health fund if you are unsure, or call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby.
Resources and support
For information, advice and support during your pregnancy:
- Talk to your GP or midwife.
- Contact Pregnancy, Birth and Baby for more information and support. You can talk with a maternal child health nurse on the phone 1800 882 436 or via video call.
- healthdirect Service Finder – can help you find health services and hospitals near you.
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Last reviewed: May 2021