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What is a midwife?

A midwife examining the belly of a pregnant womanA midwife is a health professional who provides care, education and support to women and families during pregnancy, birth, postnatal and the early parenting period.

The midwife may practise in any setting, including the home, the community, hospitals, or in any other maternity service. In all settings, the midwife remains responsible and accountable for the care she provides.

Midwifery considers women in pregnancy, during childbirth and early parenting to be undertaking healthy processes that are profound and precious events in a woman’s life. These events are also seen as inherently important to society as a whole.

Until recently in Australia most midwives first trained as nurses before becoming midwives. Now it is possible to train as a midwife by completing a Bachelor of Midwifery degree.

So what do midwives do?

Midwives are specialists in normal pregnancy, labour, birth and newborn care.

Midwives provide:

  • Antenatal care and assessments throughout pregnancy. This includes arranging any necessary blood tests, investigations and referrals
  • Information and education either individually or in groups
  • Support and professional care throughout labour and birth in the place of the woman’s choice
  • Consultation with an obstetrician or other health care professionals if complications arise at any time during pregnancy, labour, birth or after the birth
  • Support, advice and professional care after the baby is born
  • Support, advice and assistance with breastfeeding and caring for the baby

You can seek a midwives assistance for all or just some of the services above – for example, contact your local midwife after the birth for home-help with settling or feeding your newborn.

FORUM: You can find a pregnancy healthcare provider in the Bub Hub forum

Talk with a midwife about:

  • Preconception health (preparation for pregnancy)
  • Advantages of continuous pregnancy care
  • Your pregnancy and what to expect
  • Nutrition and exercise through pregnancy and after
  • Sexuality during and after pregnancy
  • Effects of smoking, alcohol and other drugs in pregnancy
  • Choosing your place of birth-home, hospital or birth centre
  • Birth as a family experience
  • Birth plans
  • Choices in childbirth e.g. active birth, water birth
  • Your expectations, hopes and fears about labour and birth
  • How to cope with labour pain
  • Interventions in labour and birth
  • The effects of drugs which may be used in labour, such as epidural and pethidine
  • Perineal care, massage and episiotomy
  • Caesarean sections
  • Feeding your baby
  • Caring for and settling a newborn baby
  • Community support services for new parents
  • Post-natal depression
  • Family planning
  • Planning return to work

Where will I find a midwife?

No matter where you choose to have your baby, you will be likely to receive care from a midwife. Midwives work in the community, in birth centres and in public and private hospitals.

There are now services in most states and territories that offer women the choice of one-to-one care throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and early parenting from a known midwife. This is called caseload midwifery or midwifery group practice and was developed to offer women continuity of care, which is said to have significant and lasting benefits to women, babies and their families.

Some services offer care from a team of midwives in a birth centre or hospital clinic.

In some locations you can find a midwife in private practice, who will provide one-to-one care in your own home.

Midwives also work in community health clinics, offering care to new mothers and their babies.

Wherever a midwife works, discuss with her how she can best meet your needs and those of your family during your pregnancy, labour, birth and early parenting.


 – written with information from the Australian College of Midwives

Image credit: stockbroker/123RF Stock Photo

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