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What do midwives do?

5-minute read

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:

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

Your midwife will care for both you and your baby immediately after the birth. The midwife, or your doctor, will check whether you have lost too much blood or need stitches.

Midwives offer postnatal care in hospital, including:

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.

For more information

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Last reviewed: January 2021


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Need more information?

Midwives: guide for women & families | Raising Children Network

Midwife means being ‘with woman’. Midwives care for women during pregnancy, labour and birth. They work in hospitals, birth centres and homebirths.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Birthing services in Central Australia - NT.GOV.AU

Antenatal care, midwife services, labour and birth, lactation consultant, childbirth education and support for Central Australia.

Read more on NT Health website

Pain relief during labour | Raising Children Network

Pain relief in labour includes natural options like massage, as well as medical options. It’s best to discuss options with a midwife or doctor in pregnancy.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Homebirth: pregnancy care and birth | Raising Children Network

Homebirth is an option for healthy women with low-risk pregnancies who can transfer to hospital. Private midwives care for homebirthing women in pregnancy.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Health professionals involved in your pregnancy

Information on the health professionals involved in your pregnancy, such as midwives, doctors and obstetricians.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Choosing where to give birth

Advice on choosing where to give birth, including a midwifery unit or birth centre, hospital or at home, and what to expect from private and public care.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Homebirthing in the NT - NT.GOV.AU

Homebirths in Alice Springs, Darwin and remote areas of the NT.

Read more on NT Health website

Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Interventions during labour and birth

Doctors and midwives will use a variety of technology during your labour to monitor your progress and check that your baby is OK

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Pregnancy care & birth: public hospitals | Raising Children Network

Public hospitals are safe options for pregnancy care and birth. Midwives usually look after women having public hospital births. Medicare covers most costs.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Pregnancy care & birth at birth centres | Raising Children Network

Birth centres support healthy women with low-risk pregnancies to give birth in a home-like environment. Pregnancy care at birth centres is led by midwives.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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