FREDERICTON -- Midwives in New Brunswick have begun seeing their first patients -- becoming one of the last provinces to provide publicly funded and regulated midwifery services.

Only Prince Edward Island and Yukon territory are without enabling legislation, while Newfoundland and Labrador just hired its first midwife co-ordinator, although services are not yet available.

New Brunswick announced plans for midwives in 2008 but only passed regulations last year.

"We've been taking in patients that are due in December and beyond so hopefully the first couple weeks of December we'll have some babies born. It will be very exciting," said Ashley Kaye -- one of the two midwives hired so far for the demonstration program in Fredericton.

There are currently more than 1,500 midwives across Canada, with half of them in Ontario, which has allowed them since 1994.

Katrina Kilroy, president of the Canadian Association of Midwives, said it has been a long and difficult process to get provinces to adopt midwifery as a funded and regulated program.

"I think there is some marginalization of midwifery across the country. Women's health care generally doesn't always get top priority in the health care pile," she said Friday.

"Midwifery is also a little bit of a square peg in a round hole. We do many things differently than other practitioners within the system and that can be challenging," she said.

Midwives assisted in more than 38,000 births across Canada last year, with more than 21,000 of those in Ontario alone, compared to 450 in Saskatchewan and 247 in Nova Scotia.

"It's a very good service. It's an in-demand service. It fits well into a health care system, but it needs stewardship from government and it needs appropriate collaboration from other health care providers in order to thrive," said Kilroy.

Midwives can provide care before, during and after low-risk pregnancies. They must complete a four-year baccalaureate program and attend many births during their training period.

The Fredericton midwifery clinic currently has a waiting list of about 30 clients and Kaye said she expects that to grow.

"I know in other jurisdictions across Canada midwifery clinics tend to have waiting lists no matter how many clients they're able to take in. They add more midwives and then more clients call. We hope to expand the service as time goes on," she said.

It's expected two more midwives will be hired for the Fredericton office before the end of the year.

Geri Geldart, vice-president of the Horizon Health Network, said she hopes the Fredericton office serves as a model for other locations across the province.

"We look forward to growing this program and welcoming the many babies that will be brought into the world at the hands of our experienced and dedicated midwives," Geldart said.

Geldart said it will take time to study demand before they determine how many midwives will be needed in New Brunswick.

Kilroy said Ontario started with 60 midwives in 1994 and have close to 1,000 now.

She said while the Yukon and P.E.I. have shown interest in midwifery, there's no indication when they might consider legislation.