Background: Around 2% of women who give birth in Australia each year give birth in a birth centre. There is currently no standard definition of a birth centre in Australia.
Aims: This study aimed to locate all birth centres nationally, describe their characteristics and procedures, and develop a definition.
Methods: Surveys were sent to 23 birth centres. Questions included: types of procedures, equipment and pain relief available, staffing, funding, philosophies, physical characteristics and transfer procedures. Of the birth centres, 19 satisfied the inclusion criteria and 16 completed surveys.
Results: Three constructs of a birth centre were identified. A ‘commitment to normality of pregnancy and birth’ was most commonly reported as the most important philosophy (44%). The predominant model of care was group practice/caseload midwifery (63%).
Thirteen birth centres were located within/attached to a hospital, two were on a hospital campus and one was freestanding. The distance to the nearest labour ward ranged from 2 m to 15 km. Reported intrapartum transfer rates ranged from 7% to 29%. Thirteen centres had a special care nursery or neonatal intensive care unit onsite, or both.
Eight centres undertook artificial rupture of membranes for induction of labour, while two administered oxytocin or prostaglandins. All centres offered nitrous oxide and local anaesthetic. Twelve centres had systemic opioids available and one offered pudendal analgesia. Fetal monitoring was used in all birth centres. Only three centres conducted instrumental deliveries, while 15 performed episiotomies.
Conclusion: Birth centres vary in their philosophies, characteristics and service delivery.