When Racquel McKenzie moved to Whanganui from Wellington, she hoped to get a Maori midwife.

She was out of luck.

"There weren't any lead maternity carers that were Māori," she said.

"There was one Māori midwife that worked at the hospital and around my due date she was leaving to go to Australia to work."

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McKenzie, who is of Te Atihaunui a Paparangi, said it was important for pregnant women to have a good connection with their midwife.

She said for Māori that meant an understanding of cultural practices like using a wahakura (woven flax bassinet) or a muka (flax to tie the umbilical cord off, instead of a clamp).

"For me ... really all it is, is to have a common ground I suppose.

"Obviously I've had to have a pakeha midwife ... and she's been fabulous."

The Whanganui District Health Board said it had one Māori midwife on staff despite "aims to have staff demographics reflecting the population".

Typically between 40 and 45 per cent of the babies born in Whanganui are of Māori descent.

The DHB said it was trying to get more Māori interested in working in jobs such as midwifery, by employing local people and promoting the careers in schools.

Ngā Maia Māori Midwives is the organisation promoting Māori birthing.

It said the Māori midwifery workforce was in "dire straits" with just 200 of the 3068 midwives registered in New Zealand being Māori.

And fewer than 130 of them actually practised in New Zealand, the group's chief executive, Jean Te Huia said.

"The birth rate of Māori has increased substantially over the past 10 years," she said.

"And all indications are that it will continue to rise; but the workforce of Māori midwives has declined rapidly."

Te Huia said many Māori midwives were moving to Australia for better pay and working conditions.

"The latest assessment by NZCOM (New Zealand College of Midwives) shows the average wage for a midwife is about $7 an hour.

"I'd guess it's half that for Māori midwives on top of which we have to self-fund and attend compulsory training, pay for all our own travel and clinical supplies ... and sometimes watch helpless as babies are removed from their parents despite all of our best efforts."

Te Huia said there was evidence to show Māori women were less likely to attend DHB funded antenatal classes.

She said the Ministry of Health needed to put more money towards supporting Māori midwifery, in particular so they could create more Māori-focused antenatal classes.

The Ministry of Health has been asked for comment.