From community midwives to specialist doctors, find out which healthcare professionals will be looking after you during your pregnancy, labour and birth.
Whether you want a home birth or are planning to have your baby in a maternity unit you should receive care from a midwife during your pregnancy and labour. You’ll only see a doctor if there are unexpected complications or if you have pre-existing conditions or risk factors that could lead to problems for you or the baby.
Midwives are the experts in straightforward pregnancies and births and they are the only health workers whose main job it is to look after pregnant women.
In the National Health Service (NHS) there are both hospital midwives and community midwives providing maternity care. Who you’ll see during your pregnancy depends largely on where you live and whether you experience any complications.
- Hospital midwives run hospital antenatal clinics, help you if you’re giving birth on the labour ward, and look after you if you’re staying in the antenatal or postnatal wards of the maternity unit. They’re usually experienced in births requiring interventions such as induction of labour, careful monitoring of you and the baby during labour and the use of epidurals and other methods of pain relief. If you decide to have an epidural it will be administered by an anaesthetist. The midwives will be there to support you in labour once you’ve had the epidural. Some hospital midwives work in alongside birth centres and they’re often very experienced in supporting you to give birth without medical intervention.
- Community midwives are usually associated with a hospital or a GP surgery but mostly care for you outside of the hospital. They may give antenatal care in local GP clinics or children’s centres, or they might visit you at home for your antenatal appointments during pregnancy. If you have a home birth it will be community midwives who come to support you and help you give birth to your baby safely. After the birth of the baby, they’ll do postnatal visits, seeing you and your new baby either at home or in clinics. As they often work away from the hospital environment, many community midwives are good at helping women who want to give birth without medical intervention.
- Integrated midwifery is where the same midwives work in the hospital as well as in the community.
- Midwives who are not employed directly by the NHS offer free maternity care in some parts of the country. These non-NHS midwives can provide a free service that offers continuity of care without you having to pay for it. To find out more, read our advice on care from non-NHS midwives.
- Private midwives (including independent midwives) are not employed by the NHS. You usually have to pay for private midwifery care and you’re unlikely to be able to have your private midwife act as your midwife during labour if you give birth in an NHS hospital. Find out more about care from non-NHS midwives.
It’s likely that you’ll only have to see a doctor during pregnancy or labour if a problem arises. If you’re at increased risk of complications then it’s likely that you’ll be referred to a doctor during pregnancy, for example if you’ve been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes. The most senior doctor you’ll see is a consultant. You may also see junior doctors or ‘trainees’, but they will all be qualified doctors.
- Obstetricians are specialists in pregnancy and birth where there are complications and look after you and your unborn child.
- Anaesthetists are responsible for setting up epidurals for pain relief during labour and giving anaesthetics such as epidurals for caesarean or assisted births.
- Neonatologists are specialised in looking after newborn babies who need extra care.
Student midwives and medical students
Student midwives and medical students observe consultations and births as part of their training. You should be asked for your permission for students to be present during your consultation and before they perform examinations, and you can decline if you don’t want to be cared for by them.
Sometimes, your antenatal care will be split between your GP and midwives at the hospital. This if often called shared care. Even if you have a home birth, your GP is very unlikely to attend. After the birth, you’ll see your GP for your six-week postnatal check.
Your GP will also be able to see you if you have any medical problem that isn’t related to your pregnancy or the birth.
Knowing your midwife during pregnancy and labour
It’s likely that you’ll meet quite a few different midwives during your pregnancy. If having contact with only one or a small group of midwives is important to you, you can look into whether continuity of care is offered in your local area.
This is where you get to see the same midwife or small group of midwives throughout your pregnancy, and these are then the same midwives who are with you for the birth and who look after you for the first days after you have had your baby.
Use our Birth Choice tool to view pages dedicated to your local units and you’ll be able to see how many midwives you’re likely to be cared for by during your pregnancy and labour. Find out more about the benefits of knowing your midwife.
More from Which?
- Your pregnancy week by week: Prepare for the journey ahead with our guide from the first trimester to the third.
- Top tips for talking to your midwife: Make the most of your antenatal appointments with our checklist.
- Do you want to study midwifery? Head over to Which? University for advice on everything you need to know when applying for a midwifery course.