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Keywords:

  • Australia;
  • birth center;
  • intended place of birth;
  • perinatal outcomes

Abstract:  Background:  A recent Australian study showed perinatal mortality was lower among women who gave birth in a birth center than in a comparable low-risk group of women who gave birth in a hospital. The current study used the same large population database to investigate whether perinatal outcomes were improved for women intending to give birth in a birth center at the onset of labor, regardless of the actual place of birth.

Methods:  Data were obtained from the National Perinatal Data Collection (NPDC) in Australia. The study included 822,955 mothers who gave birth during the 5-year period, 2001 to 2005, and their 836,919 babies. Of these, 22,222 women (2.7%) intended to give birth in a birth center at the onset of labor. Maternal and perinatal factors and outcomes were compared according to the intended place of birth. Data were not available on congenital anomalies, or cause, or timing of death.

Results:  Women intending to give birth in a birth center at the onset of labor had lower rates of intervention and of adverse perinatal outcomes compared with women intending to give birth in a hospital, including less preterm birth and low birthweight. No statistically significant difference was found in perinatal mortality for term babies of mothers intending to give birth in a birth center compared with term babies of low-risk women intending to give birth in a hospital (1.3 per 1,000 births [99% CI = 0.66, 1.95] vs 1.7 per 1,000 births [99% CI = 1.50, 1.80], respectively).

Conclusions:  Term babies of women who intended to give birth in a birth center were less likely to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit or special care nursery, and no significant difference was found in other perinatal outcomes compared with term babies of low-risk women who intended to give birth in a hospital labor ward. Birth center care remains a viable option for eligible women giving birth at term. (BIRTH 37:1 March 2010)