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Canberra trials publicly-funded home births

Midwifery Professor Deborah Davis
Photo: Midwifery Professor Deborah Davis
Canberra women will soon have the option of a publicly-funded home birth.

The ACT Health Publicly Funded Homebirth Service will provide one to two home births a month, or up to 24 a year, for low-risk pregnant women who live within a 30 minute radius of the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.

Applications for the three-year trial, delivered through the Canberra Midwifery Program, will open in October with the first home births expected in February.

Professor of Midwifery Deborah Davis, who holds a joint appointment with the University of Canberra and ACT Health, said Canberra women will now have another choice.
“Women need to be able to have the sort of birth experiences that are right for them and, for some women, home is the place that they want to have their babies, so it gives them an option which I think is really important,” she said.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Australia’s Mothers and Babies 2010 report reveals just 0.5 per cent of all births took place in Australian homes in 2010.

Professor Davis said while privately practising midwives can provide home birth services, the costs can deter parents from choosing to birth at home.

“The affordability puts it out of some women’s reach, so there might be a lot more women who are keen on having a home birth now,” she said.

“There will certainly be a group of women who are keen to take it up - I think it will be popular.”

A network of publicly-funded home birth models operate across Australia, in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia.

Under the ACT home birth model, two midwives will be present at each birth and work closely with a team of midwives, obstetricians and neonatologists.

Professor Davis said the Canberra home birth model will serve as an extension of the hospital’s existing continuity of midwifery care and birth centre program.

“Midwives who are currently working in the birth centre and providing caseloading care will add a woman or two per month to their caseload,” she said.

“It’s not so different for the midwives or the service - they’ll add this woman to their caseload and rather than birthing in the birth centre, they’ll be supporting her to have her baby at home.”

Professor Davis said evidence shows home births are a safe option for low-risk pregnant women with a registered midwife.

“I think in the past we’ve had attitudes about these women or midwives being a bit extreme or on the fringes but it’s a really safe option and a great option for low-risk women,” she said.

“For midwives who have gone from working in hospitals to home, it’s just a new world. I’ve done some research on this and they absolutely love it because the woman is in control and she’s in an environment that’s really comfortable for her.

“The role of a midwife really changes to one that is much more supportive and led by the woman rather than led by the service, so I think it’s a positive thing for midwives and a great option for women.”

ACT Health Minister Simon Corbell said participating women will undergo rigorous eligibility screening and continuous risk assessments throughout their pregnancy and labour, to ensure they can give birth at home safely.

“The government has listened to calls from the community to provide this safe alternative and expect there to be considerable interest.”

Once completed, ACT Health will evaluate the trial and consider whether to continue the initiative.

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords