About birth centres
Birth centres support women to birth their babies in a natural way in a home-like environment. They’re an option for healthy pregnant women with low-risk pregnancies.
In a birth centre, a midwife or team of midwives cares for you during pregnancy and birth and immediately after birth. You usually get to know the people looking after you in a birth centre, and this can have a positive effect on your birth experience.
Most birth centres are attached to public hospitals in city areas.
Booking into a birth centre
If you think you might be pregnant, see your GP as soon as possible to start your pregnancy care.
Your GP will give you a referral to the birth centre if it’s an option for you. This will depend on where you live, your health and your pregnancy history. Then you’ll need to call the birth centre to book in your first appointment.
Birth centres can book up very early. If you’re pregnant and you’re interested in having your baby at a birth centre, it’s a good idea to make a booking immediately. You can ask to be placed on a waiting list if you don’t get in straight away.
If you want to book into a birth centre but can’t, you might have other options for one-to-one care from a midwife. For example, you might be able to go to a midwifery group practice in a public hospital. You can talk to your GP about these options.
Pregnancy care at birth centres
Your pregnancy appointments are likely to be with a midwife at the birth centre.
You might have one appointment with an obstetrician, or you might have more if there are any concerns.
You’ll be offered antenatal classes during your pregnancy care at the birth centre.
When women see the same midwife or small group of midwives throughout their pregnancies, they often feel more comfortable and confident asking questions and talking about different aspects of their pregnancy, lifestyle and home situation.
Around the day of the birth
When you know you’re in labour, you call the birth centre. The midwives will let you know when to come to the birth centre and what to do.
A midwife or team of midwives, usually ones you know, will care for you when you get to the birth centre. They’ll call a doctor if you need extra medical care.
If you need any birth interventions, the team will transfer you to the birthing suite of the nearest maternity hospital. If you or your baby need a longer stay after the birth, you’ll be taken to the maternity unit of the hospital.
The birth environment at birth centres
Birth centres aim to provide a comfortable, home-like environment. In this kind of environment, women are less likely to need medical pain relief and caesareans. They’re often happier with their care too.
Many birth centres have:
- air-conditioned birthing suites, usually with ensuites, showers and big baths
- birth balls, heat packs, electric oil burners and other equipment
- birthing pools
- televisions (you might have to pay)
- telephones (you might have to pay)
- small kitchens
- double beds and home-like furniture.
Most birth centres don’t have a place to stay overnight. If you need to stay overnight, you’ll be transferred to a maternity unit at the nearest maternity hospital. Otherwise, you’ll be discharged within a day of giving birth.
Pregnancy and birth complications: how they’re handled at birth centres
If a doctor or midwife is worried about your health or your baby’s health during pregnancy, you might not be able to give birth in the birth centre. This is a decision that the medical team will make with you, but you need to stay flexible.
During labour, if you or your baby needs extra medical checks or care – for example, a forceps birth or caesarean – the midwives will call an obstetrician. You’ll go to the birthing suite or theatre at the public maternity hospital attached to the birth centre or nearby.
Birth centres aren’t set up to deal with serious birth complications. If you go into labour before 37 weeks or your baby needs high-level medical care, you’ll go to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or special care nursery (SCN).
Sometimes you’ll be well enough to go home after a complicated birth, but your baby might need to stay in the NICU or SCN.
Costs of giving birth at birth centres
Most birth centres are attached to public hospitals. The following information is about birth centres at public hospitals:
- Medicare covers the cost of your care.
- There might be costs for tests and ultrasound scans. You can often get some money back from Medicare.
- There might be a cost for antenatal classes.
- If you’re in shared care or live rurally, some of your care might be with your GP. Some GPs bulk bill. If they don’t, you’ll need to pay the difference between their fee and the Medicare rebate.
- If you hire a doula, there’ll be a cost, which depends on the doula’s experience, level of care and involvement in your pregnancy.
- Check with your midwife about any other costs.
Other things to think about with birth centres
If you’re interested in a birth centre, it’s a good idea to think about:
- emergency care – talk with your midwife about what would happen if either or your baby needs it
- your feelings about pain relief in labour
- the birth centre’s approach to care, family members and visitors
- facilities and services during and after the birth.
Knowing your options and talking about them with your midwife or doctor can help you feel more prepared for and happier about your pregnancy and birth experience in the long run.