A midwife is a health professional trained to support and care for women during pregnancy, labour and birth. They help you to stay healthy in pregnancy and, if no complications arise, to give birth with little intervention. Midwives also care for you and your baby in the first few weeks following the birth.
What is a midwife?
Traditionally, midwives were nurses who underwent extra study. Now, midwives can become qualified by doing a 3-year university degree without needing to study nursing first.
Practising midwives must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. Some have extra qualifications and can prescribe certain medications, or practise privately. Private midwives must also register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
In Australia, while both men and women can practise as midwives, most of those currently working are women.
Where do midwives work?
Midwives operate in many settings, including hospital maternity units, birth centres, obstetrician's consulting rooms, midwifery group practices, community health centres and in private homes. Where you see a midwife will depend on where and how you choose to give birth.
If you live in a rural or remote area, your choice of birth facility might be limited. You might see a midwife (or doctor) at a local community health service. You may also need to travel to a hospital with a maternity unit for the birth.
Midwifery care in a public hospital and birth centre is covered by Medicare. If you have a home birth, Medicare will cover some of the care offered by a private midwife with a Medicare provider number, but only for care given during the pregnancy and after the baby is born — not the actual birth.
You will pay a fee for midwifery care under a private obstetrician or for a private midwife. But most private midwives are registered as Medicare providers, so you may get a rebate through Medicare. Otherwise, you may get a rebate from your private health insurer.
Your midwife's role during pregnancy
Midwives will provide most of your antenatal care if you're planning to give birth in a public maternity unit. You might also see a midwife during your appointments with a private obstetrician. For a planned home birth, you'll probably see the same midwife (or a small team) throughout your pregnancy.
Your midwife will usually:
- check your baby's health, growth and position
- advise on or help with hospital bookings and routine tests and checks
- give you support and advice
- help you prepare for labour and birth
Your midwife's role during labour and birth
Midwives will support you through labour and birth. They can:
- give you information, encouragement and emotional support
- monitor your progress and suggest strategies to help your labour
- monitor the baby's heartbeat and other signs
- offer you pain relief, or arrange for a doctor to administer it
- get extra medical help if needed
If you have an uncomplicated birth at a public hospital or birth centre, your midwife will usually assist you with both the labour and the birth of your baby. You may not have the same midwife care for you for the whole labour. An obstetrician can be called in if there are complications.
In a private hospital, your midwife will update your obstetrician on your progress and call them in for the birth.
If you’ve chosen a home birth, your midwife will manage your labour and the birth. They might need to call an ambulance to take you to hospital if complications arise that require medical intervention.
Midwives can't give epidurals. These can only be given in a hospital by an anaesthetist.
After your baby is born
Midwives offer postnatal care in hospital, including:
- helping you with breastfeeding and settling your baby
- showing you how to bathe your baby and change nappies
- administering pain relief if needed (or organising a doctor to provide it)
- carrying out some routine health tests, such as newborn screening
When you go home, a midwife might visit you at home.
After a home birth, your midwife will usually visit you daily for a few days. Some midwives will also be available to give advice over the phone for the first few weeks.
Your local child health nurse, many of whom are midwives, can also visit you at home and see you for regular appointments as your child grows.
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Last reviewed: January 2019