When you fall pregnant, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is where to have the baby, and who you will see for your antenatal care: an obstetrician or a midwife. This will also be largely decided by whether you opt to use the public or private system or are planning a home birth.
While some women might think of a midwife as playing a supporting role to a doctor, midwives are actually qualified professionals trained to provide ongoing care during pregnancy, childbirth as well as postnatal care and play a huge role on the day.
What is a midwife?
Midwives are qualified medical professionals who have studied to become midwives (either solely or on top of a nursing degree) and must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.
Midwives predominantly work out of hospitals and birthing centres, but may also work from private practices. If you are choosing a private midwife they must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)
What is the role of a Midwife during pregnancy, labour and birth?
If you go through the public system, and you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, you will likely see a midwife for the majority of your antenatal care. However, some private obstetricians may also use midwives for some of your visits.
Much like an obstetrician would, midwives will monitor your baby’s growth and development, monitor your health and wellbeing, help you organise any tests or scans required, as well as providing advice and support for your pregnancy, birth and labour.
What is the role of a midwife during labour and birth?
During your labour and birth, midwives will monitor both you and your baby, offer and provide pain relief (they cannot administer epidurals however this will be done by an anaesthetist), and provide help and support along the way.
You may not have the same midwife throughout your pregnancy and labour, depending on whether you go public or private – and how long your labour takes. If you are booked into a Midwifery Group Practice in a public hospital, you will have the same small group of midwives (sometimes only two) looking after you throughout your whole pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period.
In the public system, if your labour is uncomplicated the midwife may go on to help you give birth to your baby, however, if any complications do arise, an obstetrician will be called in to help. If a caesarean section is required, this will be performed by an obstetrician.
In a private hospital, midwives will monitor you and your baby throughout labour, keeping your obstetrician updated with your progress before calling them in for the birth.
What is the role of a midwife after the birth?
Midwives are there to care for both you and your baby after birth, they will monitor both of you closely to make sure you are recovering well and carry out newborn tests on your baby. They will also administer any pain relief or organise a doctor if you need any medical treatment.
Midwives are also there to help you care for your new baby throughout the duration of your hospital stay, teaching you things like breastfeeding, changing nappies, bathing your baby as well as emotional support.
Once you take your baby home you will also have a home visit from a midwife from your local Child and Family Health centre, usually within two weeks from giving birth. They will check up on how you and your baby are progressing and recovering and provide any extra support or advice you may need.
For more information on midwives, visit the Australian College Of Midwives