Pregnant women struggling to find midwives as working conditions burn them out

New Zealand has more registered midwives than ever before, but their working conditions have become so extreme many are only able to work part-time, and some have left the industry altogether.

Now there are complaints from pregnant women struggling to find one.

It seems there's a growing trend among pregnant women - searching for a midwife.

"Being my second baby, I had learnt from my first pregnancy that the day after I found out I was pregnant I contacted my previous midwife immediately," mother Kelly Johnston says.

And expectant mother's are spreading the word.

"When I was about six weeks [along] I was speaking to my sister and she said 'oh you really need to get on to getting a midwife' and I had no idea," expectant mother Steph Hawke says.

Hawke's daily search cold-calling midwives lasted weeks. Thankfully, her friend Kelly Johnston was able to refer her midwife - an option those who are isolated don't have.

"I couldn't imagine if you were on your own or whatever your situation is," Hawke says.

"Even for me, like I was starting to get a little bit stressed because I couldn't find one just by ringing off the cuff and saying I need a midwife. They were booked up."

The problem is widespread.

"Having worked within health recruitment for the past 20 years there definitely is a chronic shortage of midwives and that's not just nationally, that's internationally," says Tonix Health Recruitment founding director Kate Nattrass. 

Despite having more certified midwives than ever many are burning out, reducing their hours or leaving the practice altogether.

"There are a lot of midwives that only work part-time or aren't working at all because their conditions aren't necessarily sustainable. So a way that we can make our practice sustainable and stay in the profession is to only take a lower caseload," says community midwife Dani Gibbs.

Their biggest challenge is that much of the workload is behind the scenes and often invisible.

"Maternal mental health, trying to get women to see their GP's, smoking cessation, diet concerns, there might be family violence concerns as well - we cover everything and sometimes we're the first health professional a woman has ever encountered before," Gibbs says.

It's all taking its toll.

"I think it's that they're as passionate as they are that we've been able to maintain the workforce that we have," says College of Midwives CEO Alison Eddy.

"They're a highly-committed professional educated workforce that are really invested in getting the best outcomes for mums and babies. Midwifery is a fantastic job but we can't rely on goodwill forever."

An essential service, serving notice.