Maternity group pushes for new, family birth centre

Bek Bowman, left, Ann Kinnear (CEO of ACM) and Ali Teate… “This is about giving women better choice and access to a public health facility in Canberra,” says Bek. Photo by Kathryn Vukovljak

MIDWIVES, women and academics are calling for a freestanding, publicly funded family birth centre to be built in the ACT, which they say could be the solution to overcrowding at local maternity hospitals.

Bek Bowman, council chair of the Australian College of Midwives (ACM), says local maternity units are bursting at the seams.

“The Canberra population is growing and more babies are being born each year. Expansion is needed so it would be good to provide another viable option to women instead of just having an extension of what’s there now,” she says.

“This is about women. And about giving women better choice and access to a public health facility in Canberra.”

The ACM coalition for the freestanding birth centre says that every month more than 50 women are turned away from birth centres at Calvary and the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children (CHWC).

Mum-to-be Melissa (who declined to be identified) is expecting her first child in September. She says she was unable to get a place in the CHWC birth centre.

“The process described on the website had changed and I needed a GP referral. When I followed up they hadn’t seen the referral,” she says.

“I was told there was a waiting list but that there wasn’t a place available at the moment.

“I’m still hoping for a low-intervention birth and I have a doula, but I do feel disappointed, largely because I know what’s available but unfortunately not everyone has access to that.”

The group, Family Birth Centre for the ACT, says women love continuity of care, and that statistics show that women with low-risk pregnancies and who give birth in these types of facilities have less interventions and improved healthcare outcomes.

Ali Teate, assistant professor in midwifery at UC and ACT branch chair of ACM, says this would be the third birth centre in the ACT, providing a homely environment for low-risk births with one-on-one, midwifery-led continuity of care and collaboration with obstetricians.

A freestanding, independent unit would mean women choosing low-intervention care wouldn’t have to walk into a hospital, she says.

“It would provide midwifery-led care, with really good, clear collaboration and networking with obstetric teams, which would be wonderful for both professions because it would be wonderful for women,” Bek says.

“It would need incredibly clear transfer processes to a tertiary hospital if needed, therefore be located within a distance that you could be in theatre if you needed to be by the time they were setting up.”

A petition calling for the family birth centre has already received more than 2000 signatures.

“We’re driven by women,” says Bek.

“It’s a woman’s right to birth wherever she wants, however she wants and the strength that gives her to be a mother is the solid foundation of our whole community.”

Sign the petition here

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