What is freebirth?
Freebirth is the practice of women birthing their baby without without medical or midwifery assistance. Generally, the baby is born at home, although some women choose to have their baby at a place or site which has special significance to them.
Currently in Australia, around 97% of births occur in hospital. The remainder are either born before the mother can arrive at hospital, or they are home births with a midwife, or freebirths, where the birth is not attended by any health professional.
How is freebirth different from a usual home birth?
The major difference between home birth and freebirth is that with home birth, a trained health professional, generally a midwife, is present. With freebirth, only the woman and perhaps her partner and other family members are present.
Why do some women choose to have a free birth?
Women who choose to freebirth are generally keen to make up their own minds about how and where they birth their baby. They may also have clear ideas about whom they want with them during their baby’s birth and about the support they receive.
Some women strongly believe they are safer at home than in a hospital. They may have had a previous traumatic or negative birth experience and want to be more independent with their next birth. They may also want to be the one in control, making their own choices, and find it too difficult to manage possible opposition to their views from a hospital or healthcare provider. This might include what they see as potentially unnecessary birth intervention.
Other women have a strong belief in their body’s ability to birth without any assistance and want to minimise disruption so they can fully focus during labour and birth. They may also have a strong belief that birth leaves life-long impressions and needs to be managed in the most sensitive way possible, with minimal intervention.
Having a connection to a place, usually home, might also be why a woman chooses a freebirth. For her, feeling a strong sense of connection to her home environment and perhaps wanting her children and other family members to be present and to witness the new baby’s birth can make freebirth an attractive option.
Why do some women choose freebirth over a midwife-supported homebirth?
One of the most common reasons women choose freebirth is the challenge in finding midwives who will support homebirths. The cost of professional liability insurance is very high for independent maternity care providers, especially those who attend homebirths.
Another reason — assuming you can find one — is the cost of having a homebirth midwife. This cost is not covered by Medicare or private health insurers.
Are there any dangers with a free birth?
Health professionals generally agree that freebirth increases a range of risk factors for both a mother and her baby. In hospital, if something goes wrong, there are resources and healthcare professionals who are trained to provide immediate support and interventions.
What risks come with a free birth?
Many of the risks of freebirth relate to conditions being undetected or undiagnosed without a midwife, obstetrician or health professional present. It’s not uncommon for obstetric emergencies to happen even in the absence of risk factors. This is why birthing with a trained maternity care provider present is considered the safer option.
Some risks to the mother include:
- bleeding, either before, during or after birth
- undiagnosed health problems, such as high blood pressure
- failure to progress in labour
- uterine rupture
- retained placenta
- damage to the perineum or the pelvic floor
- infection in the mother or her baby
Some risks to the baby include:
- abnormal presentation, such as when the baby is in a breech position
- prematurity or low birth weight
- cord prolapse or cord compression
- cord around the neck (strangulation)
- changes in the baby’s heart rate
If you do decide to have a free birth, what can you do to make it as safe as possible?
Do as much reading and research as you can. Speak with maternity care providers about your individual risk factors and weigh up what is right for you and your baby.
It's important you have an emergency management plan to follow in case you or your baby need immediate support and transfer to hospital.
Take birthing or antenatal classes to help you prepare for having your baby, which will allow you to ask questions.
Be organised in the preparation and set-up for where you will have your baby. A clean, soft place to lie or stand on, wraps to keep the baby warm, sterilised scissors to cut the baby’s cord and clamp to secure the cord are essential.
Consider hiring a doula to help you during labour. Doulas don’t have medical qualifications, although most have undergone some training in birth support.
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Last reviewed: March 2021