Midwives and homebirth

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What is a midwife?

Midwife means being ‘with woman’. Midwives have special training and skills in caring for women during pregnancy, labour, birth and the weeks after birth. They also care for newborn babies for between a few days and six weeks after birth, including helping with breastfeeding. In Australia, midwives need to be registered with the Nurses and Midwives Board of Australia to practise.

Midwives can be men or women, although most midwives are women.

A private midwife is registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and practises either alone or with a small team of other midwives.

Most private midwives have Medicare provider numbers and access to Medicare rebates or rebates through private health funds. Check with your midwife when you’re asking about costs.

Your midwife’s role during pregnancy

If you’ve been accepted into homebirth by a homebirth midwife or public homebirthing program, your pregnancy appointments are likely to be with a midwife in your home, hospital or the community.

You usually see one midwife throughout your pregnancy, but once you go into labour, two midwives must be present at your home for the birth.

Your midwife will talk with you in detail about pregnancy, birth and parenting, and options for birth classes, if you want to do them.

As part of your homebirth plan, your midwife or GP will discuss booking you into a back-up hospital.

A homebirth midwife coordinates your care throughout your pregnancy. Many women report that one-to-one care is a big part of a happy pregnancy and birth experience.

Your midwife will usually:

  • talk with you about your general health and give you support and advice
  • do routine health checks on you and your baby, including checking your baby’s position and growth
  • help arrange hospital bookings, tests and scans
  • give information and talk about labour, pain relief and birth
  • give information and talk about life at home with your baby
  • give information and talk about choices for feeding your baby
  • ask about your lifestyle, including smoking, drinking and other drugs, and send you for extra support if you need it.

Your midwives’ role at the birth

Once labour is coming along well, your midwife and another midwife will come to your home and care for you during labour and birth.

The midwives will usually:

  • give information and talk about labour, pain and birth
  • suggest positions, movements and changes to help your labour progress
  • guide your breathing and help you to relax
  • monitor your health and your baby’s health through routine checks
  • reassure and encourage you, and give you emotional support during labour
  • give you pain relief, if you want it
  • help your support people to care for you
  • check the progress of your labour and birth and look out for complications
  • get medical help and carry out initial emergency measures, if you need them.

If your midwife is worried about your health or your baby’s health at any stage during pregnancy, labour, birth or after the birth, your birth setting might change. The midwife might call an ambulance to take you to a nearby public hospital.

Unless your homebirth midwife has a special agreement with the hospital, she won’t be able to keep caring for you in the hospital but will stay on to support you. The hospital midwives will provide the clinical care for you instead.

Your midwife’s role after the birth

After the birth, your midwife will check that you and your baby are both well and stay for several hours.

Your midwife will also:

  • talk about your labour and birth and explain anything you're not sure about
  • give you pain relief if you need any and help you recover
  • set up newborn screening tests
  • do routine checks of you and your baby
  • refer you to specialists – for example, a paediatrician or lactation consultant
  • discuss contraception
  • arrange for a child and family health nurse to see you in the first weeks after the birth
  • organise other services if you need them
  • support you emotionally.

Your midwife will help you learn about breastfeeding and caring for your new baby.

She’ll check on you and your baby every day for a few days, depending on how you and your baby are going. Some midwives are available for phone advice (or a visit) up until you have your six-week check with her or your GP.

Choosing a midwife

If you want to go through a public homebirth program, you need a GP referral.

Some private homebirth midwives also need a GP referral. You can ask about this when you first contact any midwives you're interested in.

To find a midwife, you can:

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