Melbourne Doula

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Australian Birth Centres as Safe as Hospitals

New Research Shows Australian Birth Centres are as Safe as Hospitals

The perinatal death rate for babies born in hospital birth centres was significantly lower than for similarly low risk babies born in hospitals, according to a new Australian study of more than 1 million births published this week in the respected international journal 'Birth'.

The findings of the study contradict the claim made repeatedly by the National Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists over recent years that giving birth in a birth centre increases the risk of the baby dying.

The study examined all perinatal deaths over a 4 year period. It found that the perinatal death rate for babies born to first time mothers in a birth centre was 1.4 per 1,000 compared to 1.9 per 1000 for similar low risk babies born in hospital labour wards. For mothers of second or subsequent babies, the rates were 0.6 per 1000 for birth centre babies compared with 1.6 per 1000 for hospital born babies.

“This study clearly shows that claims that Australian birth centres are dangerous are simply wrong” said Dr Barbara Vernon, Executive Officer of the Australian College of Midwives. “On the contrary, this study of all births in Australia over 4 years confirms that birth centres provide care to healthy pregnant women that is as safe, if not safer, than care provided in standard maternity units.”

The study examined all 1,001,249 birth in Australia from 1999 to 2002, 21,800 of which took place in birth centres located alongside or within hospitals. Birth centres provide care to women in a home-like environment. Midwives take primary professional responsibility for care, including deciding whether or not a woman or baby needs to transfer to receive medical care. Medical backup is typically located close by.

“Only about 2% of women in Australia currently have access to birth centres to provide their care. Yet the safety and efficacy of birth centres is beyond doubt” said Dr Vernon.

As the Senate Rocking the Cradle Inquiry found back in 1999, there is huge unmet demand for birth centre care in Australia. Qualitative studies have shown that women value birth centres over standard maternity care because they are based on an understanding that birth is a normal process, offer the chance for women to get to know their midwife, offer personalised care, and offers greater certainty about who will attend them during labour and birth.

“This study should be taken as a green light for governments-state and federal- to immediately expand women’s access to primary, woman centred midwifery led care with medical backup.” Dr Vernon said.

Reference: Tracy et al 2007 ‘Birth Centres in Australia: A National Population Based Study of Perinatal Mortality Associated with Giving Birth in a Birth Centre’ Birth, 34:3 September.

You can read the research abstract here.

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