What is a midwife?
Practising midwives are health professionals who must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. Some have extra qualifications and can prescribe certain medicines, or practise privately. Private midwives must also register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
In Australia, while people of any gender can practise as midwives, most midwives are female.
What is my 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 of their wellbeing
- 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.
What is my midwife’s role after my 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.Check with your hospital, birth centre or private midwife about the postnatal services they offer.
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.
In some states and territories, or if you move to a new area with your newborn baby, you may need to get in touch with the service yourself. If you aren’t sure, it’s a good idea to ask your hospital midwife how to access home care services, before you go home with your new baby.
What questions should I ask a midwife?
It is important to ask questions, especially if you don’t understand what your midwife is saying or need more information.
Use the healthdirect Question Builder to help you form a list of questions to ask your midwife, GP or other health professional. You can print this off and take it with you.
What training has a midwife had?
Traditionally, midwives were nurses who underwent extra study. Now, in Australia, midwives can become qualified by doing a 3-year university degree without needing to study nursing first.
Registered nurses can also become midwives by completing postgraduate university studies in midwifery.
Where do midwives work?
Midwives work in many public and private health settings, including:
- hospital maternity units
- birth centres
- obstetrician's consulting rooms
- midwifery group practices
- community health centres
- 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 choices might be more 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.
How much does it cost to see a midwife?
Midwifery care in a public hospital and birth centre is covered by Medicare, so if you have a Medicare card you will have no out-of-pocket costs.
If you chose midwifery care under a private obstetrician or see a private midwife, you will need to pay a fee. Most private midwives are registered as Medicare providers, so you may get a rebate through Medicare. If you have private health insurance, check with them regarding how much they will cover, and how much it will cost you to see a private midwife.
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.
If you are seeing a midwife privately, it’s a good idea to ask about likely costs before your first appointment.
Resources and supportTo learn more about midwifery, visit Australian College of Midwives. To find a private midwife, visit Midwives Australia.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: December 2022