Expectant mothers in Alberta who choose to deliver their babies with the help of a midwife will no longer have to cover the costs themselves.

After public pressure, the Alberta government announced it will cover the costs for expectant mothers who choose to deliver their babies using a midwife.

Starting April 1, 2009, midwifery will be added to the maternity services covered by the public health system in Alberta, the province said on Thursday. The average cost of using a midwife is about $3,500.

Midwives provide care to women throughout pregnancy and during the birth, and for six weeks after. They visit mothers at home or in the hospital to provide support and care for the newborn.

Many women in low-risk pregnancies choose midwives for a deeper personal relationship, and hope that there will be fewer medical interventions than in conventional deliveries.

The province is allocating $4 million to the Alberta Health Services Board to implement midwifery services in the 2009-2010 fiscal year with the help of the Alberta Association of Midwives.

"This decision will provide better access and more choice for expectant women and will relieve pressure on doctors, nurses and hospitals," said Alberta Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert in a news release.

"Expanding the use of midwifery services will also help address the pressures on family physicians and obstetricians."

Alberta midwives in short supply

In May, midwives and their supporters held rallies across the province calling on Alberta to cover their services.

"While it was user pay, for example, immigrant women who are socially isolated, pregnant teens, women in abusive situations, these were the women we really felt we could make a difference in their care," said Meryl Moulton, past president of the Alberta Association of Midwives.

British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and the Northwest Territories already have midwifery legislation. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are both moving toward regulation.

Expectant mothers can use midwives in hospitals, community birthing centres or their own homes.

But midwives in Alberta are scarce because they must complete a two-year licensing period and run a private practice. According to the Alberta Association of Midwives, there were 29 registered midwives in the province in 2006.

"It should bring more midwives into this province, because that's what's going to limit the midwifery care is because they're already full. So we need more midwives to come into the province either from B.C., Ontario or from the United States," said Charis Williams, who runs Prema Sai Prenatal, a birthing centre in Calgary.