Choices in antenatal care
If you think you are pregnant, the first step is to visit your GP. You may already have completed a pregnancy test. They will do some preliminary tests, such as taking your blood, and will use the date of your last monthly period to estimate the date the baby is due (the due date). They will then discuss your plans for antenatal care. Your GP will then provide you with a 'letter of referral' to the maternity hospital if that is where you opt to have your baby. (Not all hospitals insist on a letter of referral). If you wish to have your baby at home, you can read our document on home birth.
You may opt for services under the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme, which is a system of combined care, split between your general practitioner and a maternity unit / hospital obstetrician. Alternatively, you may choose to visit the hospital's antenatal clinic, either as a public, semi-private or private patient.
All expectant mothers who are ordinarily resident in the State are entitled to free maternity care, covering antenatal visits, labour and delivery and postnatal care.
When you ring the hospital to make your first appointment, you will be asked if you intend to visit as a public, semi-private or private patient.
If you are a public patient, you will attend the hospital's antenatal clinic (or hospital clinics based in the community). You may see the same doctor on each visit, or you may not. Alternatively, if your pregnancy is uncomplicated, you may elect to visit the midwives' clinic if the hospital has one. This is staffed by experienced midwives and again, can ensure you continuity of care.
When you come into the hospital for labour and delivery, you will be delivered by staff midwives and may not see a doctor unless you experience complications. You may not have met the midwives or doctors who attend your labour and delivery. After the birth of your baby, you will be moved to the public ward for your stay, generally about 3 days. A small number of hospitals now offer early discharge schemes, allowing you to go home early from hospital with follow-up care. For details, please contact your local hospital or consult the Cuidiú Consumer Guide to Maternity Services in Ireland.
Semi-private and private care
If you are attending as a semi-private patient, you may see a consultant privately, or attend the semi-private clinic. This clinic is run by the consultant and their team. In some hospitals a team member may deliver your baby, or the doctor on duty at the time. After delivery, you will stay on a semi-private ward, with approximately 3-5 other mothers.
If you are attending privately, you will be appointed your own consultant whom you will see at each visit. Your consultant may not necessarily be available to deliver your baby. Private care also entitles you to a private room, although, again, this is dependent on availability.
How to apply
Your GP (family doctor) or the Health Service Executive will advise you of the nearest maternity hospital(s), and will supply you with a letter of referral. You can telephone the hospital directly for a first appointment.