Birth Centres originated in the 1970s in response to consumer demand. Many women wanted to avoid routine medical intervention during their labours, so they lobbied for the establishment of birth centres with a relaxed, comfortable and homelike environment. Currently, birth centres are a popular option for women who aim for a natural, active birth, with water birth as an option.
Birth centres are designed to be a home away from home. A birth centre is either a separate unit located away from the labour ward or a freestanding unit not attached to a hospital. Birth centres encompass a philosophy that pregnancy and birth are normal, natural events in the life of a woman and her family. Small teams of midwives generally staff birth centres, providing continuity of care for women through pregnancy, birth and the early postnatal period. Pregnant women are able to get to know the midwives and be familiar with the midwife providing labour care. Partners, support people, siblings and other family members are encouraged to be involved. After the baby’s birth, some centres provide postnatal care from a few hours to a few days (each birth centre is different). Follow up is either provided at home by birth centre midwives, on a postnatal ward at the local hospital or by community midwives.
Generally, birth centres don’t have facilities for interventions such as continuous monitoring of the baby, epidurals, forceps/vacuum births or caesarean births. In the event of complications, a woman transfers to the labour ward of the nearest hospital. Birth centres usually accept women classified as having a low risk of complications. Most birth centres have a list of risk factors that excludes certain women from giving birth in the centre; the criteria vary between centres. Birth centres provide safe care in a comfortable and relaxed environment, however, in Australia they’re few and far between, particularly in rural areas. New Zealand hosts over 60 units across the country (see List of Australian Birth Centres and List of New Zealand Birth Centres).
In Australia, birth centres are mostly attached to public hospitals. Midwifery-led care in these centres is free (being completely covered by Medicare). Care by a private midwife or doctor in a birth centre is usually claimable through Medicare and/or a private health fund. In New Zealand the majority of birth centres are freestanding. Care provided in birth centres by midwives or doctors is free.
Caregivers who provide birth centre services include:
- Private midwives
- Midwives employed by the birth centre
- Private obstetricians
Excerpt from Pregnancy For Dummies, 2nd Australian and New Zealand Edition. Reproduced with permission. For more information on birth choices purchase a copy of Pregnancy For Dummies online