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What is a midwife and why all women need one

27 Nov, 2023

I truly believe that every woman needs a midwife on their team during their pregnancy, birth and postnatal period. While many people think midwives are just there to assist doctors, or deliver babies, our role is actually so much more than this.

Midwifery is a profession in itself, not a sub-set of nursing. Many midwives like myself have never been a nurse. Our entire degree is devoted to becoming an expert in caring for women through pregnancy, labour and birth and for the first six weeks after a baby is born. Midwives are the most skilled provider in normal pregnancy and birth care, and are trained to refer to doctors when necessary.

In Australia you can choose to see a midwife or doctor. Women and babies who are healthy may not need to see a doctor at all during their pregnancy or birth, all of their care can be provided by a midwife if they choose. If you choose to have your care provided by a doctor, you can also receive midwifery support.

So what is a midwife?
The midwife is recognised as a responsible and accountable professional who works in partnership with women to give the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, labour and the postpartum period, to conduct births on the midwife’s own responsibility and to provide care for the newborn and the infant. This care includes preventative measures, the promotion of normal birth, the detection of complications in mother and child, the accessing of medical care or other appropriate assistance and the carrying out of emergency measures. A midwife may practise in any setting including the home, community, hospitals, clinics or health units.
- International Confederation of Midwives Scope of Midwifery Practice.

In Australia midwives may work in public or private hospitals, antenatal clinics, birth centres or private practice. They may work independently or with doctors.

What is ‘continuity of care’?
You may have heard this term but what does it actually mean? Midwifery continuity of care means knowing your midwife - being cared for by, and able to build a relationship with the same midwife or group of midwives during pregnancy through labour and birth, and into the early weeks of parenting. This type of care has been shown to have many benefits for mums and babies.

Benefits of midwifery continuity of care:
• More likely to have a normal birth
• More likely to have a positive experience of labour and birth
• Less likely to need an epidural or other forms of pain relief
• Less likely to have an instrumental (forceps or vacuum) birth
• Less chance of needing a cesarean
• Higher chance of successfully breastfeeding your baby
• Babies are more likely to be born healthy and at full term

How do I access midwifery continuity of care?
There are many ways to access midwifery continuity of care – through a midwifery group practice or caseload program through your local public hospital, a private midwife, or perhaps a birth centre where midwives work in a team. These options vary in each state so I recommend to research what is available in your area.

Private Midwives
There can be lots of misconceptions about midwives working in private practice, and it is often thought that private midwives are just for women wanting a homebirth – this is definitely not the case! While some midwives in private practice provide home birth services, many support women to birth in their chosen hospital or provide care after their baby arrives. Private practice means the midwife is working independently and can provide care to women in a variety of different ways, from one off education and planning appointments to full continuity of care from the moment you find you are pregnant up until six weeks after birth.

Private midwives can generally adapt their visits to meet your needs, can have longer appointment times (I regularly spend 1-2 hours with my clients at antenatal appointments!) and may be able to offer more home visits after your baby is born. Having your own midwife to support you for those six weeks after your little one arrives is truly invaluable!

Please note that you don’t have to have private health insurance to receive care from a private midwife, and Medicare rebates apply on most private midwifery services.

The options for midwifery care vary within each state – I recommend researching your options before you are even pregnant so you can make an informed decision. If you’re currently pregnant ask about your options at your next hospital appointment, or do a search to find local private midwives in your area.

Article written by PBC Expo Midwife

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