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Public misconception regarding the role of midwives sees them considered primarily assistants during labour rather than lead care providers before, during and after birth, new research has revealed.

The findings have sparked a public awareness campaign currently underway in South Australia, developed by the Australian College of Midwives and funded by the SA Department of the Premier and Cabinet, aiming to help women make informed choices about healthcare options.

The study, undertaken by the Rosemary Bryant AO Research Centre and School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of South Australia, found over 50% of respondents believed a woman needed to see a doctor during pregnancy and after the baby was born, yet less than a third felt it was necessary to see a doctor during labour and birth.

Lead midwifery academic, Dr Lois McKellar, said the survey results indicated the public associate midwives with birth but do not understand the full suite of services and benefits they can provide during pregnancy and once a baby is born.

“We want the public to better understand what midwives do.” Dr McKellar said.

“There is a public misconception that they are considered mostly as assistants during labour, rather than lead providers before, during and after birth.

“This lack of understanding impacts on women’s capacity to make an informed choice around their care options and may have hindered the uptake of midwifery-led models of care.”

Dr McKellar explained midwifery-led care involves a model where women receive care from a known midwife, adding that widespread evidence-based national and international research showed its significant benefits, including less intervention and premature births, increased satisfaction, and lower costs to health services.

“Nationwide, only 2.2% of births occur through this model despite numerous national and state service reviews recommending an increase in more woman-centred services,” Dr McKellar pointed out.

“One of the key advantages of this model is that midwives get to know the woman prior to labour and they will understand her needs. For example, if the midwife understands the woman is prone to anxiety, they can provide suitable care when it’s required – whether that’s during the birth or as the new mum settles in at home with her new baby.”

Dr McKellar said the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) had recently mandated that every women has a known midwife and she suggested adopting the model in Australia would have huge benefits.