NORTHERN Rivers women could be a step closer to accessing publicly funded home births.
The Northern NSW Local Health District is considering the results of a report reviewing the merits of public home birthing.
"The district initiated a Homebirth Advisory Group, which included obstetricians and gynaecologists, midwifery nurse specialists and consumer representatives to undertake a consultation about, and a review of, public home birthing," a health district representative said.
"Following the consultation process, a report has been prepared and it is being considered by the health district executive, the Health Care Quality Committee and the board.
"Once a decision is made on the review report recommendations, an announcement will be made on the way forward for different birthing options."
Within the district's footprint, Tweed, Murwillumbah, Mullumbimby, Lismore Base, Casino and Grafton Base hospitals all have maternity facilities.
The health district's governing council chairwoman Hazel Bridget said there was potential for the Northern Rivers to provide home-birthing services that had been available to metropolitan mothers for some time.
"A model is already in existence in other parts of NSW," she said.
"St George Hospital has been doing it for a long time.
"It would give us far more control of the process if we use our salaried staff. Of course it's only appropriate where the midwives are capable of doing it.
"There are concerns that people are 'free birthing' in this area - people who are not prepared to pay for a private midwife."
The website of Homebirth Australia, a lobby group established to promote more widespread use of home births, claims a home birth can cost up to $5000.
Ms Bridget said any increased access to home birthing would help change the philosophy behind some current birthing practices.
"Birth (has become) medicalised," she said.
"If we apply good protocols with experienced midwives and obstetric backup, we can return to more naturalised birthing practices."
Maternity Coalition Northern Rivers branch president Sally Cusack said she was hopeful the report would create home-birth access for women sooner rather than later.
"It should be an option that is available publicly," she said.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's latest snapshot of births, Australia's Mothers and Babies 2009, released last month, found only 863 women had a home birth in 2009, representing 0.3% of the 294,540 women who gave birth that year.
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