Concern we will see a growing number of unsafe freebirths due to a change in homebirthing laws over the coming years.
Figures on the number of women choosing to freebirth are not collated, but researchers and midwives believe it’s on the rise.
The change to homebirthing laws could spell the end of private homebirths in Australia, leaving women determined to homebirth with little choice but to go it alone.
Homebirth vs freebirth
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Freebirth is very different to properly supervised homebirth with a registered midwife.
For many free birthers, this also means no check-ups, no ultrasounds, no midwife appointments at all.
The change to homebirth laws
In 2019, private homebirths in Australia may come to an end altogether.
Only one company, MIGA, offers insurance to private homebirth midwives in Australia, and that cover does not include the most high-risk period — labour, reports ABC NEWS.
The Federal Government provided an exemption in 2010 that allows midwives to attend homebirths despite being uninsured during labour, but that exemption expires in December 2019.
Without it, private midwives would be committing an illegal act by conducting a homebirth while uninsured.
Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney Hannah Dahlen describes women like Natalie as “refugees from the mainstream maternity care”, and says their stories reveal a deeper malaise within the system.
She and her colleagues are researching the impact of birth trauma and the connection to subsequent freebirths or high-risk homebirths.
“We are in a situation where I’ve probably never been so concerned as I am now,” Professor Dahlen said.
“Our research is showing us freebirth is rising, the use of [unregulated] birth workers is rising. Women just can’t access midwives — if they can access them, they can’t afford them.”
Professor Dahlen said unless a solution to the insurance problem was found urgently, more private midwives would stop practicing.
“So in December 2019 when the exemption for insurance expires, there is a real potential that women will not be able to access a registered midwife for their homebirth,” she said.
“So they will turn to [unregulated] birth workers or they will turn to doing it themselves and that is a real concern.”
Professor Dahlen said a lack of insurance was just one of a number of factors causing private midwives to leave practice.
She said in the past five years, the number of private midwives had more than halved to about 100.
In that same time, Professor Dahlen said about half of all private midwives had been reported to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
“The current climate for private midwives in Australia, I think, is toxic,” she said.
“I think there’s a witch-hunt going on that doesn’t involve fire, but involves an incredible amount of trauma.”
Gino Pecoraro from the Australian Medical Association cautioned women against the practice and said the safest place for women to give birth was in a hospital.
Liz Wilkes from Midwives Australia said midwives were trained to respond if something went wrong.
“We can see very subtle changes in birth … but if you’re birthing by yourself then the chances are that those subtle changes won’t be picked up in a period where appropriate action can be taken,” she said.
“I do agree that it is their body and they do have the right to choose and I understand that they are very well-educated women, generally speaking.
“It is a very normal life event for most people, but when it goes wrong unfortunately it can go quite badly wrong … they often don’t know what they don’t know.
Read more: The latest birthing trend encourages women to get back to nature and birth unhindered and unaided.
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