Choices in antenatal care
Antenatal care is the care you receive during your pregnancy from healthcare professionals (before your baby is born).
It is sometimes called maternity care or pregnancy care. Postnatal care is the care you and your baby receive after the birth.
There are 3 different types of antenatal care in Ireland:
- Public care
- Semi-private care (this is only available in Dublin maternity hospitals)
- Private care
If you think you are pregnant, the first step is to visit your GP or contact your local maternity unit or hospital. They will confirm your pregnancy with a pregnancy test and discuss your antenatal care options.
If you live in Ireland (or if you intend to live here for at least 1 year), you can get free antenatal care through the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme. You do not need a medical card or a GP visit card to get free antenatal care.
All expectant mothers who live in Ireland are entitled to free maternity care. This covers antenatal visits, labour, delivery and postnatal care. Most women chose to have their antenatal care split between their GP and a maternity unit/hospital obstetrician. This is known as ‘combined care’ or ‘shared care’.
Alternatively, you may choose to get all your care at the hospital's antenatal clinic. This option is available in all maternity units and hospitals. You will be asked if you intend to be a public, semi-private or private patient when you ring to make your first appointment.
Both options are covered by the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme.
You can get free public maternity care through the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme.
The number of appointments you have will depend on your needs, the needs of the baby, and any potential risk of complications.
If your pregnancy is uncomplicated or ‘normal’, you can have your baby in a hospital or at home. Your antenatal care will be provided by midwives (as well as your GP if you have chosen shared care). In many hospitals, you will not see a doctor unless there are complications. Your labour and delivery will be attended by the midwives, and if needed, the hospital doctors on duty at the time.
After the birth, you will be moved to the public ward for the rest of your stay. This is generally for about 3 days, though some hospitals will allow you to go home early with follow-up care. For example, a 'Domino' scheme is available in some hospitals for women with normal risk pregnancies. The Domino scheme means your care will be provided by a team of midwives during pregnancy, labour and birth. After you leave the hospital, a midwife will visit you in your home.
If you have a ‘medium risk’ or ‘higher risk’ pregnancy, your antenatal care will be provided by an obstetrician (a doctor who specialises in pregnancy, labour and birth) and a team of midwives. The birth will take place in a hospital setting, rather than at home. You will also have appointments with your GP if you have chosen shared or combined care.
Semi-private care is only available in Dublin maternity hospitals.
If you choose this option, a consultant obstetrician will have overall responsibility for your care. You will also meet a consultant or a specialist registrar in obstetrics each time you go to the hospital.
During the birth, you will be cared for by midwives with additional support from the hospital doctors if needed. Afterwards, you will stay in a semi-private ward with approximately 3-5 other mothers. However, if a semi-private ward is unavailable, you might stay in a public ward.
You will have to pay a fee for semi-private care. If you have private health insurance, check with your insurer what is covered under your plan.
Private care is available in all maternity hospitals in Ireland. You will have a particular obstetrician that will provide your care throughout your pregnancy and during your birth. You will see your obstetrician at each antenatal visit. If they are on leave on unavailable, you will see a different obstetrician. During the birth, midwives will care for and support you. Your obstetrician will also be there to oversee the birth and provide you with any extra medical support you might need.
Private care entitles you to a private room, subject to availability.
Your own postnatal check 6 weeks after the birth may be done your obstetrician or your GP. Your baby's 2 week and 6 week checks after birth will be done by your GP. If you choose private care, you will need to pay a consultant's fee as well as a hospital fee. Check with your private health insurance provider what fees are covered under your plan.
How to apply
Your GP or the Health Service Executive (HSE) will advise you of the nearest maternity hospital(s), and will supply you with a letter of referral for the hospital if needed. You can telephone the hospital directly for a first appointment.