Having a homebirth is not a common choice in Australia. Less than one per cent of babies are born at home. This low statistic is indicative of the lack of support and services for women birthing at home. There is no government rebate for women who choose this option. Costs for a homebirth are paid out of pocket. Though some health funds are now providing some rebate for homebirth or midwifery services.

Women who plan a homebirth find that friends, relatives and even strangers react strongly to the choice of birthing at home. Negative responses include: You’re brave! Is homebirth safe? What if something goes wrong? Is homebirth legal? The general population poorly understands homebirth as an option. A planned homebirth is as safe, if not safer, than giving birth in a hospital for most women. Women who are healthy and are considered low risk are the ideal candidates for a homebirth. Women planning a homebirth need to live within a reasonable distance of a hospital, in case a transfer is required. Having the skills of an experienced midwife in attendance is very important.

Showing evidence of safety to family members or friends who feel uncomfortable about homebirth can be helpful. Though women who plan a homebirth may need to stand up for their right to choose the place of birth. Women who successful give birth at home usually have a strong commitment to their choice and trust in their own ability to give birth. Women who plan to give birth at home often take time and energy finding the right healthcare practitioner and research their options during pregnancy and the birth. Choosing where to give birth is a very personal choice. While homebirth is not every ones choice, it certainly is a responsible and safe choice.

Why would you choose a homebirth?

Some women find that having their baby in the comfort of their own home provides a very supportive environment and consequently they have an easier birth. Other women choose a homebirth, as they believe in their body’s ability to give birth and wish to decrease the chance of needing intervention in their labour. A number of different research studies have looked into the safety of homebirth – all found that for women of low-risk, homebirth is a safe option. The following is a list of reasons why women choose a homebirth:

  • Women have fewer complications in labour
  • Decreased need for interventions during labour and less use of medication
  • Being in comfortable and familiar surroundings
  • Women have the choice of who is present at the birth
  • No separation from partner or other children
  • No separation from the baby at all
  • Less risk of infection during a homebirth – homes generally are not a haven for bacteria, unlike hospitals
  • Have the freedom to do what you what – for example; dance, sing, scream, walk around the backyard or submerge in a pool or bath (with the midwives approval)
  • Babies have fewer problems after birth
  • Increased success rates with breastfeeding

Who can have their baby at home?

Every woman has the right to choose a homebirth. However women who are considered high risk are encouraged to give birth to their baby in hospital. The following is a list of some of the circumstances where a hospital birth is recommended:

  • Multiple pregnancy – twins, triplets etc.
  • Breech presentation – baby’s bottom is coming first
  • Significant bleeding during pregnancy or during labour
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • When the baby has not been growing properly
  • Premature rupture of the membranes
  • Premature labour (labour before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
  • Baby becomes distressed in labour
  • Problems with the placenta
    • Abruption – when part of the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus
    • Praevia – where the placenta is located low in the uterus – in front of the baby

Do I need permission from my doctor to have a homebirth?

You do not need to gain permission from a doctor to have a homebirth. Midwives are the specialists in normal pregnancy and birth. If any problem arises during the pregnancy, birth or the postnatal period the midwife will refer you to the appropriate service eg hospital or obstetrician. Midwives are educated to deal with complication should they arise. Currently in Australia midwives are not able to order standard blood or other tests during pregnancy – so a visit with the local hospital or doctor may be required if you need any tests.

How can I organise a homebirth?

Depending on where you live you can contact one of the following organisations to find your nearest homebirth midwife:

Community Midwifery WA Inc.
Shop 8, 147 Canning Highway, East Fremantle
PO Box 1336, FREMANTLE WA 6959
Phone: (08) 9339 0021
Fax: (08) 9438 1283
Email: enquiries@communitymidwiferywa.org.au

Darwin Homebirth Group Inc.
PO Box 41252
Casuarina NT 0811
Phone (08) 8948 2373, (08) 8981 5841

Homebirth Access Sydney
PO Box 66
Broadway NSW 2007

Homebirth Australia
PO Box 625
Scone NSW 2337

Homebirth Canberra
PO Box 3244
Weston ACT 2611
Phone (02) 6287 2330

Homebirth Network of S.A. (Inc)
PO Box 223
Blackwood SA 5051
Website: http://homebirthsa.org.au

Home Midwifery Association (QLD) Inc.
PO Box 655
Springhill QLD 4000
Phone (07) 3839 5883

Illawarra Homebirth Support Group
Website: www.illawarra.birthchoices.info

Once you have found the homebirth practitioners in your area – you can contact them by telephone. Women often interview a number of different midwives to see whom they feel the most comfortable with.

The midwife will inform you of what you need to have a homebirth – most items are available in your own home. Items include: plastic sheeting, old sheets, towels, heat packs, nappies, baby’s clothes, baby’s wraps, sanitary napkins, cotton buds, drinks, food, cloth nappies, breast pads, lip balm, camera and ice cream container (for the placenta). This list is by no means exhaustive. The midwife provides the necessary medical equipment for the birth.

To find out more about homebirth see the following websites:

(30th July 2001 - Revised 2010)

Jane Palmer is a mother, birth activist and midwife in private practice located in Sydney, Australia. With additional qualifications as a childbirth educator and lactation consultant, Jane works to improve pregnancy, birth and parenting options for families.

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