There are up to three birth place options in public hospitals: the labour and birthing suite (ward/unit), the hospital birth centre, or at home. All public maternity hospitals have a labour and birthing suite, some will have a birth centre and only a small number have a homebirth service. It is a good idea to investigate what your local public hospital offers.
Birthing in the hospital (labour and birthing suite) means you will have full access to pharmacological pain relief. It also means that you have immediate access to medical assistance if it is needed and you will not be moved to another room (unless you consent to a caesarean section, then you will be transferred to theatre). Your care will generally be midwifery-led but there are also doctors who monitor your labour, and they will come to check on you from time to time.
If you choose to use the birth centre (which is usually on-site), your birth room will look a bit more ‘home-like’, may have a double bed rather than a medical birthing bed, generally has more space to move and might have access to a large bath. Generally, you can birth in the birth centre only if you have a lower risk pregnancy. Pharmacological pain relief is not usually available here (or minimal) so if you decide you want pain relief, you will likely need to move to the labour and birthing suite. Your labour will not usually be monitored by doctors unless the midwife detects something unusual and requests assistance. If it is decided medical assistance is required, you will likely move to the labour and birthing suite where full monitoring and medical care can be given.
If your local public hospital offers homebirth as an option, it will be through their midwifery group practice program. Choosing homebirth through the public system means your costs will be kept to a minimum compared to hiring a private midwife. This may suit some families better. However, the flexibility of birth at home through the public system may be restricted compared to care with a private midwife. Hospital policies decide who can and can’t birth at home and if you don’t meet the strict requirements, you will need to prepare for a birth in the birth centre or labour and birthing suite.
If you birth in hospital and you and your baby are healthy, you will be discharged within the first day or two. But you may also request to leave soon after birth – make sure to bring this up during your antenatal appointments. If there are any health concerns, then your hospital stay may be longer. Once home, a midwife will visit you at home for up to 4-6 weeks. She will check that you are healing well, if you need support with breastfeeding and that your baby is healthy and gaining weight.