Mums encouraged to embrace natural birthing units over hectic hospitals
Maternity support workers and midwives across East and South Auckland are calling on more women to embrace the act of natural birth.
Despite almost 90 per cent of Kiwi women choosing to give birth in a hospital, only 12 per cent of them take place within Primary Birthing Units.
Primary Maternity Services are provided to women expecting an uncomplicated pregnancy, labour and birth.
The units are managed by experienced midwives specialising in promoting normal birth using therapies such as water, massage, mood lighting and mobile positioning.
Counties Manukau Health has three Primary Birthing Units based in Botany Downs, Papakura and Pukekohe.
Maternity Service manager Debra Fenton says the units offer a relaxed alternative to birthing in a busy hospital.
"The women who come and birth in the primary units find the environment quite positive and conducive to birthing more naturally," she says.
"They have the support of their lead maternity carer (LMC) but also the support of all of the core staff within the unit."
Each unit offers resource beds, birthing rooms, birthing pools and clinics.
"For example, at Botany we have 12 resource beds and three birthing rooms. We have a birthing pool for water labour and four clinics that LMCs can come in and use," Fenton says.
Pukekohe and Papakura also offer obstetrics clinics, breastfeeding clinics and a resource centre.
"They are a great hub to integrate services and bring people together," she says.
Aside from the low percentage of births, Primary Birthing Units also do postnatal transfers.
Kidz First and women's health general manager Nettie Knetsch says: "There are some 2500 women each year who birth at Middlemore Hospital and then transfer to one of our three Primary Birthing Units for their postnatal stay."
Fenton adds: "There are a lot of women postnatally that utilise the facilities, but it would be nice to see more of those women actually choosing to use them for birth as well.
"Of course if they need obstetric input they need to go to Middlemore Hospital, but if they have a low-risk birth and don't need any secondary consultation or intervention of any sort then there is every reason to deliver at a Primary Birthing Facility."
Nicole Falkner, 28, had her first child at Pukekohe Primary Birthing Unit in February.
"I wanted to birth at a Primary Birthing Unit because birth is a natural thing and I wanted to be in a nice community setting, instead of the hustle and bustle of a busy hospital."
She says the Pukekohe unit provided a very relaxed setting with "sheep running around outside" and "birds in the trees".
"When I was there, there was only a maximum of four women in the whole place. It was so nice and quiet and the staff would do anything for you.
"I've had friends that have birthed at Middlemore and then been transferred to Pukekohe and they said it was the polar opposite," Falkner says.
"Midwives are run off their feet and they don't have time to teach you things that are so important."
The biggest drawcard for Falkner was the control she had over her own birth.
"For me, I felt really empowered birthing there," she says.
"Everything that happened was my decision, and everything was in discussion with my midwife."
Interim clinical inpatient care coordinator Wendy Davison says deciding on a natural birth shows enormous trust in the mother-to-be and her body.
"It's actually ingrained in mammals to give birth, but we have lost sight of the natural process and things have become quite sanitised in a way.
"At the best and most beautiful time of their lives, when a mother is welcoming a new baby, they need peace and time to bond with that baby and a big tertiary-based hospital isn't always the best place for that," Davison says.
Maternity services development manager Amanda Hinks says some common reasons women choose not to birth at Primary Birthing Units are lower availability of LMCs, where they live, and doctor referrals.
"Sometimes women having their first baby are talked into this whole thing around 'you will be safer at the hospital'.
"Research hasn't justified that at all, but it's a huge barrier," Hinks says.
Women can only birth at a Primary Birthing Unit if they have been screened to insure they have no medical or obstetric complications.
"The whole process is overseen and the highest standards of safety and quality are insured," Hinks says.
"But should we see that things aren't progressing as they should, the time to transfer is relatively quick and a fairly smooth transition."
Knetsch says increasing the number of births at Primary Birthing Units is a key principle underpinning the maternity strategy included in the 2016/17 Maternity Quality and Safety Programme.
"From analysis of our birth data over the years we anticipate that a further 1500 women could potentially birth safely at a Primary Birthing Unit," she says.
"This would increase the percentage of women birthing at Primary Birthing Units to 30 per cent."