8 February 2023

Freestanding birth centre one step closer to reality for Canberra parents

| Claire Fenwicke
Join the conversation
Women outside the Legislative Assembly

Ecstatic midwives, mums and bubs gathered outside the Legislative Assembly with Greens MLAs Jo Clay (front right) and Emma Davidson to celebrate Canberra’s step towards getting a freestanding birth centre. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Applause and cheering erupted in the Legislative Assembly – interrupted by the approving gurgle and coo of a baby or two – when it was announced Canberra will soon get a freestanding birth centre.

Greens MLA Jo Clay moved a motion in the Assembly on Tuesday (7 February) for the design of a northside freestanding birth centre, along with the expansion of midwife-led continuity of care and support for Birthing on Country.

The five-page motion outlined how the Canberra community had been calling for a freestanding birth centre for the past 100 years.

Ms Clay said while both the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children and Calvary Hospital had their own birth centres and continuity of care programs already, they were “bursting at the seams” with 30 to 40 families missing out each month to access the option.

“The joke is you need to call the Birth Centre as soon as you conceive or even while you’re doing the act to get a spot,” she said.

“Birth is not an illness, but in Canberra, the vast majority of women and birthing people currently have no choice but to give birth inside a hospital.

“Being able to access a hospital-based birth is sometimes necessary, but we need to enable healthy women and birthing people who want to give birth elsewhere to do so safely and with support by a known midwife.”

READ ALSO Probing the polls: public holidays and the end of the great Canberra scooter experiment?

Ms Clay argued a “cascade of interventions” could occur in hospitals, while studies showed midwife-led care in stand-alone birth centres led to fewer unnecessary medical outcomes.

She also said midwives were trained to work in such places, and creating a freestanding birth centre in Canberra would attract more midwives to the area and keep them in the workforce.

“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble staffing such a centre. In fact, I think they’ll be falling over themselves trying to work in this kind of environment,” Ms Clay said.

She noted her office had already been speaking with the University of Canberra and midwives to examine a northside hub located on the same land as the university’s hospital, which would mean pregnant women could be easily transferred to a hospital if they needed further care during birth.

Plans for the hub also included physiotherapy, nutrition and early childhood education, all located in one place.

“Necessary and obvious things can be included now as we’re planning these facilities,” Ms Clay said.

“This is about creating another choice for people who want to use it.”

READ ALSO Hellenic Club’s proposal to relocate bikeway ‘audacious and self-serving’

The Canberra Liberals argued for an amendment to the motion to allow a committee inquiry into a freestanding birth centre.

Opposition Health Minister Leanne Castley said that while she supported the motion and expanding continuity of care in Canberra, she wanted to ensure “such an important issue” was properly thought out.

“[This would] ensure Canberrans can see it’s not being done behind closed doors,” she said.

Her colleague Ed Cocks supported the amendment, outlining how his son needed medical intervention when he was born.

“It is critical to get this right so that everyone gets to take home their child at the end of the day, that everyone can be empowered [with continuity of care],” he said.

However, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said referring the freestanding birth centre to a committee would just slow down the process.

She argued the Maternity in Focus report already outlined how the Territory needed to progress with continuity of care and that the ACT Government had been committed to it “for some time” as Canberra kept growing.

“We will need the physical spaces for births to take place,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

While the amendment was quashed, Ms Clay’s full motion was passed unanimously.

READ ALSO Rate rise to squeeze households and keep Canberra property prices heading down

The news overjoyed midwives and mothers present in the Assembly.

“I was lucky enough to get a place in the Birth Centre at the Centenary Hospital for all three of my children,” local mum Abbie McMillan-Maher said.

“I had a midwife I knew, which made me feel safe, supported and heard.

“I really wish all women could access the kind of experience I had, in a supported place, with a midwife they know and trust.”

The motion outlined early design and feasibility would need to be completed before August 2024 on a co-designed midwife-led facility, either located alongside or fully separate from the new northside hospital.

An update on progress will need to be provided by the first sittings in November.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I read “birthing people” and now I no longer care what this article has to say. 🙄

I was wondering if we should start referring to people as those with or without uteruses (or uteri).

You know so we don’t offend those who have nothing better to get offended about (f@#!ing first world problems).

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.