pregnancy

"Is it safe?": A midwife tells us exactly what it's like to have a home birth in Australia.

For a lot of Australians, when we hear the term “home birth”, we think of hippie types insisting on no medical intervention.

“The first question is, ‘Is that safe?’” says Hilary Rorison from the Australian College of Midwives. “The second question is, ‘Oh, can you do that?’”

Rorison says in some other countries, like the UK, home birth is “not such a big deal”.

Home birth is part of their system. It’s more normalised.”

Mums and non-mums answer questions about childbirth with very telling results.

Video by MMC

In Australia, only 0.3 per cent of women have a planned home birth. That’s around a tenth of the number that give birth at home in the UK.

There are a small number of publicly funded home birth programs operating from Australian hospitals, and women can also choose to give birth at home with private midwives.

So what’s like to have a midwife-led home birth in Australia?

Rorison, who is based in Adelaide, has spent four years as a home birth midwife.

“There’s something really special about women labouring at home that is quite difficult to bring into a hospital environment,” she tells Mamamia.

Rorison says women who choose to give birth at home with a midwife tend to be “highly educated and very informed”.

For a woman to have a publicly funded home birth, she needs to go through what Rorison calls a “safety check”. That takes into account their medical history, mental health and their social situation.

Women can be ruled out if they’ve had previous medical complications, such as a caesarean birth for their first child, or if they’re above a certain age or a certain BMI. However, privately funded midwives might be willing to take on some of these women.

“It’s certainly not accessible to everyone and it’s certainly not safe for everyone,” Rorison says.

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Women need to live close to a hospital – generally, within 30 minutes. Women can also be ruled out of a publicly funded home birth if their home isn’t considered suitable – for example, if there’s too much clutter to allow access or if there’s illicit drug use going on.

“You spend the whole pregnancy asking all sorts of questions, really getting to know the woman and what’s going on with her – in a supportive, good way.”

As the time of birth approaches, the midwife will turn up to the house when the woman is in established labour, usually about three contractions in 10 minutes. The woman and the midwife will have already talked about where in the house she will give birth.

“Women will want to be somewhere that feels really private, that maybe they’re able to make a little darker,” Rorison says.

“Oftentimes women will want to go to the bathroom, somewhere really poky and small. Oftentimes women having a home birth will rent a pool so they can labour and/or birth in water. The shower’s a really nice place as well.”

at home birth
At home birth can give women a greater feeling of control and intimacy over their labour. Image: Getty.

She says when women are at home, they can go wherever they want without having to ask permission.

“It’s nice being able to go to the fridge and grab some ice cubes. I’ve had women go for walks, because they just wanted a break.”

There’s no limit on the number of people that can be present at the birth, either.

“I had one client and she had her other four children around the pool watching, right at the very end when the baby was being born. But some kids don’t cope well.”

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Things don’t always go according to plan with a home birth. In fact, studies have shown that anywhere from 10 to 30 per cent of women planning to have a home birth end up transferring to hospital.

Rorison says it happens more often with women having their first baby, and usually, it’s for non-urgent reasons.

“Eighty per cent of the time, it’s ‘All right, you’ve been in labour for a while. We’re getting to that time where we’re wondering what’s going on. You’re getting a little bit tired. You might want some pain relief.’”

When there is an emergency, midwives have the equipment to deal with it.

“We bring drugs to manage a post-partum haemorrhage, we bring oxygen and suction, we bring resuscitation equipment for the baby,” Rorison says.

“It’s not as if, when an emergency happens, we ring an ambulance and we’re sitting and waiting. We’re actively managing that.”

Midwives generally stay around for about four hours after the birth, or until everything is stable.

“When I’m leaving, I’ve tucked them into bed, she’s had some toast and a cup of tea, we’ve had a chat. It’s a really beautiful experience.”

Rorison says a lot of people don’t understand how strict the guidelines are for midwife-led home births and how much equipment they bring to keep it safe.

“We’re not like hippies in the background wishing everything goes well. We’re certainly modernised.”

She says they’re always “extremely grateful” to have the hospital there.

“It’s certainly not ‘home birth or nothing’.”

Have you had a home birth? What was your experience like? Tell us about it in the comments section below. 

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