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What is maternity care?

Watch this animated video to learn exactly what 'maternity care' means - the who, what, where, when, and how.
What is maternity care? Is it just taking care of women and babies? Putting it simply, yes. But it’s not just about care at the time of birth. Maternity care refers to the health services provided to women, babies, and families throughout the whole pregnancy, during labour and birth, and after birth for up to six weeks. It can include monitoring the health and well-being of the mother and baby, health education, and assistance during labour and birth. Support after the birth is important, too, making sure the mother and baby are healthy and well and providing breastfeeding guidance. Who provides maternity care? Midwives, general practitioners– sometimes called family physicians– and specialists obstetricians all provide maternity care.
Some women also see other health professionals and community workers. Anything from an endocrinologist to a social worker, a psychologist to a dietician, all these people ideally work together to support her pregnancy and birth. How are maternity care systems set up? There are different ways of organising maternity care services. This is referred to as models of care. There are four main models of care. Midwifery continuity of care, or caseload midwifery, involves care from a known midwife. It is often referred to as midwifery group practice. Women have the same midwife caring for them throughout pregnancy, labour, and birth, and following birth, with the midwife involving other care providers if they are needed.
This model of care is often extended for up to six weeks after the birth. GP shared care is where the GP provides pregnancy care, and labour and birth care is provided by hospital midwives and doctors. Sometimes the GP may also oversee labour care and be there for the birth. The GP remains in contact with the mother and baby, providing care for the family after the birth. Obstetric-led care is often referred to as a medical model of care. In this model, an obstetrician– that is, a doctor who specialises in pregnancy and birth– provides or oversees pregnancy care. Labour is monitored by midwives with the obstetrician usually attending the birth itself.
There might be a three to five day hospital stay and very limited care once home. Hospital or clinic care involves attending a hospital or clinic for all care during the pregnancy and birth, seeing a wide variety of doctors and midwives, usually whoever is on duty that day. There is often a short hospital stay and sometimes a few home visits after the birth. Where can women access maternity care? Maternity care is provided in a variety of public and private settings, including at home, in community clinics, standalone birth centres, birth centres attached to hospitals, and in hospitals themselves. And women might birth in any of these settings.
I think we can all agree that every childbearing woman needs care that’s organised around her unique needs and wishes. Healthy families and communities start with quality maternity care.

What comes to mind when you think of maternity care? Is it only about taking care of women at the time of birth? Is pregnancy included? How about after the baby’s born?

In this video, Professor Jenny Gamble identifies the breadth of maternity care to encompass the services provided to women, babies and families – this care extends through pregnancy, during labour, birth and in the six weeks after birth.

This definition stands regardless of where you come from, what kind of pregnancy care you access, where and how you choose to give birth, or who provides maternity services in your area.

This is what we mean when we talk about maternity care.

Over to you

Does the explanation in the video match what you thought about maternity care?

How is maternity care provided in your community?

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Maternity Care: Building Relationships Really Does Save Lives

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