Australian primary maternity units: Past, present and future

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Journal Article
Women and Birth, 2013, 26 (3), pp. 213 - 218
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Primary maternity units are commonly those run by midwives who provide care to women with low-risk pregnancies with no obstetric, anaesthetic, laboratory or paediatric support available on-site. In some other countries, primary level maternity units play an important role in offering equitable and accessible maternity care to women with low-risk pregnancies, particularly in rural and remote areas. However there are very few primary maternity units in Australia, largely due to the fact that over the past 200 years, the concept of safety has become inherently linked with the immediate on-site availability of specialist medical support. The purpose if this paper is to explore the various drivers and barriers to the sustainability of primary maternity units in Australia. It firstly looks at the historical antecedents that shaped primary level maternity services in Australia, from the time of colonisation to now. During this period the space and management of childbirth moved from home and midwifery-led settings to obstetric-led hospitals. Following on from this an analysis of recent political events shows how Australian government policy both supports and undermines the potential of primary maternity units. It is important that researchers, clinicians and policy makers understand the past in order to manage the challenges facing the development and maintenance of midwifery-led maternity services, in particular primary maternity units, in Australia today. © 2013 Australian College of Midwives.
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