Rural midwifery practice in Aotearoa/New Zealand: strengths, vulnerabilities, opportunities and challenges

Rea Daellenbach*, Lorna Davies, Mary Kensington, Susan Crowther, Andrea Gilkison, Ruth Deery, Jean Rankin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: The sustainability of rural maternity services is threatened by underfunding, insufficient resourcing and challenges with recruitment and retention of midwives.

Aims: The broader aim of this study was to gain knowledge to inform the optimisation of equitable and sustainable maternity care for rural communities within New Zealand and Scotland, through eliciting the views of rural midwives about their working conditions and practice. This article focuses on the New Zealand midwives’ responses.

Method: Invitations to participate in an online questionnaire were sent out to midwives working in rural areas. Subsequently, themes from the survey results were followed up for more in-depth discussion in confidential, online group forums. 145 New Zealand midwives responded to the survey and 12 took part in the forums.

Findings: The New Zealand rural midwives who participated in this study outlined that they are attracted to, and sustained in, rural practice by their sense of connectedness to the countryside and rural communities, and that they need to be uniquely skilled for rural practice. Rural midwives, and the women they provide care to, frequently experience long travel times and distances which are economically costly. Adverse weather conditions, occasional lack of cell phone coverage and variable access to emergency transport are other factors that need to be taken into account in rural midwifery practice. Additionally, many participants noted challenges at the rural/urban interface in relation to referral or transfer of care of a woman and/or a baby. Strategies identified that support rural midwives in New Zealand include: locum and mentoring services, networking with other health professionals, support from social services and community service providers, developing supportive relationships with other rural midwives and providing rural placements for student midwives.

Conclusion: Midwives face economic, topographic, meteorological and workforce challenges in providing a service for rural women. However, midwives draw strength through their respect of the women, and the support of their midwifery colleagues and other health professionals in their community.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-25
Number of pages9
JournalNew Zealand College of Midwives Journal
Issue number56
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2020


  • midwifery
  • rural maternity services
  • rural communities
  • sustainability
  • New Zealand


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