Midwives and public hospital

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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 in 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 midwife’s role during pregnancy

Midwives will be closely involved in your pregnancy care, either at the hospital or in the community.

Midwifery group practice (also known as caseload midwifery) is a small team of midwives who get to know you and care for you during your pregnancy, labour, birth and after the birth – even if there are complications, such as a caesarean. This means you get to know a midwife or couple of midwives and have continuity through the pregnancy, birth and postnatal period. This often leads to mums being happier with their birth experience and having fewer birth interventions. Midwifery group practice is more likely to be available in city areas.

A 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 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
  • support you emotionally.

A midwife’s role at the birth

The midwife will let you know when to come to hospital and what to do in labour. Midwives are the main health professionals who care for you during labour and birth. If you’re in a midwifery group practice your midwife will be called in. If you need extra medical care, a doctor will help with any procedures or operations.

A midwife 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 you and your baby’s health through routine checks
  • reassure and encourage you, and give you emotional support during labour
  • give you pain relief, in consultation with you and your doctors
  • assess the progress of your labour and birth and get extra medical help if needed
  • help your support people to care for you.

In most cases, midwives and doctors work together as a team before and during the birth.

A midwife’s role after the birth

Midwives will provide most of your care after the birth, including helping you learn about breastfeeding and caring for your new baby. If you’re in midwifery group practice or team midwifery care, you might go home soon after the birth and be visited at home by your midwife.

A midwife will also:

  • talk about your labour and birth and explain anything you are 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 if you need them – 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 services for going home, if you need them
  • support you emotionally.

Choosing a midwife

Midwives work on rostered shifts so you’ll get to know several during your hospital stay. If you’re in a midwifery-led program, you’ll probably see the same midwife or small group of midwives.

In some hospitals you can take in your private midwife to provide your care during labour and birth. The private midwife needs to have a special agreement with the hospital.

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