The support of South Otago mothers who chose to have their babies at Clutha Health First's maternity unit during the year was celebrated at a lunch in Balclutha this month.
Clutha Health First (CHF) clinical director Gary Reed said ''at the moment the unit's existence had shifted out of the 'at risk' zone'' with 35 to 40 babies expected to be born there this financial year.
Three years ago there were 56 births, which dropped to 38 two years ago and 26 last year, he said.
The service was expensive to run, costing about $500,000 a year, and in October chief executive Ray Anton warned women they needed to start having their babies in Balclutha to ensure the primary maternity unit's future.
Expectant mothers could give birth naturally at a primary maternity unit with access to midwives, lead maternity carers and some pain relief, but epidurals and caesarean sections were not available.
Women were checked for risk factors before a decision was made whether to schedule the birth in Balclutha's primary unit or in Dunedin where secondary services were available.In October, estimates showed only about half the women who visited CHF fell into the potential risk category, meaning the other half should be giving birth locally, but only about 25 per cent were doing so, Mr Anton said.
Some were still choosing to travel to Dunedin, despite not having any risk factors.
Mr Reed said the lunch was to say thank you to those who supported their hospital.
''We're in a much stronger position in terms of viability.''
But he cautioned that if the numbers using the maternity unit dropped again, long term funding could be at risk.
Lumsden recently lost its maternity services and with small rural facilities exposed in this economic climate, it was up to the community to demonstrate their support, Mr Reed said.
''We think it's a core service for a community like South Otago.''
Midwife Christy Cleverley also thanked the mothers for their support and for allowing the unit's team to be part of their birthing experience.
Nicola Ryan, whose daughter Ava just turned one, described the unit as family friendly with ''pretty much one-on-one care''.
She chose to have a water birth and said her experience was great, with staff also helping to establish breast feeding.
- Clutha Leader