The government says it will recruit 4,000 extra midwives in England by 2012 to relieve pressure on overstretched maternity services.
Midwives have warned of staff shortages
A Healthcare Commission report in January found a large variation in maternity care and raised concerns about staffing levels.
The announcement also comes ahead of a King's Fund report on the safety of maternity services later this week.
Midwifery leaders said the extra staff would be a "significant start".
Health secretary, Alan Johnson, also outlined plans for former midwives to be given a "golden hello" worth £3,000 to help them return to work after a break in service.
The funding includes training, support with childcare and travel costs plus a grant of up to £1,500.
A survey of midwives carried out last year found maternity services are being pared back, putting the care of women at risk.
And the wide-ranging Healthcare Commission review found many maternity units in England were failing to provide top quality care.
One in four women reported being left alone during labour or shortly after giving birth at a time that worried them.
And 43% of women said they were not given a choice of having their baby at home, as national guidelines suggest.
Labour's manifesto promise at the last general election was that by 2009 all women will have choice over where and how they have their baby and what pain relief to use.
And that every woman should be supported by the same midwife throughout her pregnancy.
The Royal College of Midwives estimate that 5,000 extra full-time midwives are needed in England alone to cope with spiralling birth rates.
The 4,000 proposed by the government is equivalent to 3,400 full-time posts, as some will work part-time.
Alan Johnson said the extra midwives would come from £330m additional funding already announced for maternity services.
"The number of births in England is rising.
"To keep pace with this increase and to improve the quality of care to mothers, we will recruit an additional 1000 midwives on our wards and in our communities by 2009, rising to around 4000 by 2012."
Francis Day-Stirk, for the Royal College of Midwives, said the announcement was a much needed recognition of the shortage of midwives which reduced choice for women, and had an impact on their experience of birth.
But she said around 50% of midwives will retire in the next decade so numbers will have to keep pace with demand.
"Definitely with the numbers that we know we're going to lose through retirement - this might just be a drop in the ocean.
"But it's a significant start, the recognition that we need an increase in midwifery numbers."
Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, accused the government of "chasing headlines".
"After two years of the number of midwives falling, it is clearly right to increase the number of midwives, but it's too late for the government to meet its promise for every mother giving birth to have her own midwife by 2009."