Maternity and infant care services
If you are pregnant and you are ordinarily resident in Ireland you are entitled to free maternity care under the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme.
Then, after you give birth, your baby can get some health checks, vaccinations and developmental checks free of charge.
This page explains the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme, the services provided to you by the public health nurse after your baby is born, and supports for postnatal depression.
Maternity and Infant Care Scheme
The Maternity and Infant Care Scheme provides a programme of care to all expectant mothers who are ordinarily resident in Ireland.
This care is provided by your GP and a maternity unit/hospital. This is called combined care or shared care.
You are entitled to this service even if you do not have a medical card or GP visit card. Almost all GPs have agreements with the Health Service Executive (HSE) to provide these services; they do not have to be part of the medical card scheme.
What is included in the scheme?
On the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme, your maternity care is provided by your family doctor (GP) and a hospital obstetrician (a doctor who specialises in pregnancy and labour).
If this is your first pregnancy, the GP will carry out your first examination (ideally before 12 weeks). You will have a further 5 examinations during the pregnancy, which alternate between GP visits and maternity unit/hospital visits. Your schedule of visits may be changed by your GP or hospital obstetrician, depending on your situation.
If this is not your first pregnancy, you will have an initial examination and a further 6 examinations.
If you have a significant illness, for example, diabetes or hypertension, you may have up to 5 additional visits with your GP.
The Maternity and Infant Care Scheme also provides for 2 postnatal visits to the GP. This includes:
- An examination of the baby at 2 weeks old
- An examination of you and the baby at 6 weeks old
As part of the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme, you are entitled to free in-patient, out-patient and emergency care in public hospitals in relation to the pregnancy and birth. You do not have to pay hospital charges.
However, if you need hospital care for other illnesses which are not related to your pregnancy, this is not covered by the Scheme.
If you choose to be a private patient of your consultant, you will be liable for the full range of in-patient charges. Read about the differences between public, semi-private and private maternity services.
Medical card or GP visit card for children
After your baby is born, their entitlement to other free GP services depends on whether or not they have a medical card or GP visit card. Children under the age of 6 are automatically entitled to a GP visit card – read about registering for your child’s GP visit card.
If you have a medical card, you can apply for one for your baby if you are getting Child Benefit for them. Send a covering note along with a photocopy of the child's birth certificate, their PPS Number and your medical card details to the medical card Client Registration Unit.
If your child does not have a medical card or GP visit card, you can attend your GP as a private patient. You usually have to pay to see a GP as a private patient and fees can vary.
The public health nurse
Public health nurses are registered nurses with a specialist nursing qualification. They provide nursing and midwifery care in the community.
If you have had your baby in hospital, the public health nurse will visit you and your baby at home, free of charge. This visit usually happens within 72 hours of returning home from hospital.
Read more about maternity care provided by the public health nurse.
Your child’s health and development checks
The ‘heel prick’ test
Your midwife or public health nurse will offer to do a ‘newborn bloodspot screening’ for your baby. This is also known as the heel prick test. It checks if your baby is at risk of a number of rare conditions, including cystic fibrosis. You will be asked for your consent.
The heel prick test usually takes place in your home. However, if you stay in hospital longer than 72 hours after the birth of your baby, it may take place in the hospital.
Read more about heel prick screening on the HSE website.
The public health nurse will check your baby's development at different stages. For example, at 9 months, they will check your baby's eyesight and hearing, motor development, vocalisation and general growth.
Developmental checks are generally carried out at:
- 3 months
- 9-11 months
- 18-24 months
- 3-and-a-quarter years to 3-and-a-half years
You will be contacted by your public health nurse before each check to arrange a date and time. If you have not heard from the public health nurse, call your local health centre to make an appointment. If you are concerned about your baby's development between checks, contact your public health nurse for advice.
Examinations of your baby's development by your public health nurse are provided free of charge.
Read more about your child’s developmental checks on the HSE website.
Children’s immunisation and vaccinations
Immunisation is a safe and effective way to help the body prevent or fight off certain diseases. Immunisation is provided through vaccinations.
Under the Primary Childhood Immunisation Schedule, all recommended childhood vaccines are provided to children free of charge.
Read about the vaccinations provided to children, and the ages at which they can get each one.
Supports for postnatal depression
Postnatal depression affects 10 to 15% of women within the first year of giving birth.
Symptoms of postnatal depression may start as baby blues and then get worse. For some women, symptoms become most obvious when your baby is 4 to 6 months old.
If you think you are experiencing postnatal depression, the most important thing to do is ask for help. Contact your public health nurse or GP to talk about how you are feeling. You can also read about supports for postnatal depression on the HSE website.
Contact your GP to apply for the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme. If you do not have a GP, you can find a GP in your area.
After your baby is born, you will be automatically contacted by your public health nurse. You can also contact your public health nurse through your local health centre.
Cuidiú is a parent-to-parent voluntary support charity that offers:
- Antenatal classes
- Breastfeeding information
- Parent-to-parent supports, including coffee mornings
- Toddler groups