Claire Mannion gave birth at home to son Bailey, 12 weeks old.

Claire Mannion gave birth at home to son Bailey, 12 weeks old.

It took Bailey Mannion only 75 minutes to slip calmly into the world, amid the comforts of his own loungeroom, unaware he was quietly making history.

Bailey, from Oyster Bay in Sydney's south, is one of a handful born at home under the guidance of midwives from St George Hospital, which runs the first publicly funded scheme of its kind in NSW. But his birth has already been hailed a success story.

It shows that in a controlled environment where midwives are protected by the policies and protocols of a public hospital, home birthing is a safe option for women at low-risk. 

''After having a hospital birth for my first child, [Bailey's birth] was very, very different and it was amazing to be told that everything was my choice, my decision,'' his mother, Claire, 32, said yesterday. ''It was unbelievably calm and relaxed.''

Home birthing, once the norm, is now regarded by most obstetricians as controversial and dangerous. Only 0.3 per cent of Australian women deliver at home, while a third of women in public hospitals and half in private hospitals have their labours induced and deliver by caesarean section.

Last year the Federal Government refused to include home birth under its midwifery indemnity scheme, which forced many midwives underground and threatened to increase the number of women ''freebirthing'', or delivering at home without any medical supervision.

But home birthing advocates are hoping a review of the program, published this week in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, could change the way birth is viewed across the state.

A study of the first 100 women booked to use the service found 63 per cent successfully delivered at home with no intervention or pain relief and minimal vaginal tearing.

Thirty women were sent to hospital before going into labour and seven were transferred during labour, one of the lowest transfer rates of any similar program in the world.

''It shows that in a controlled environment where midwives are protected by the policies and protocols of a public hospital, home birthing is a safe option for women at low-risk,'' the co-director of Women's and Children's Health at St George Hospital, Michael Chapman, said yesterday. ''It doesn't mean I condone home birthing in general, and I'd hate for this study to be used to support programs where there are not over-arching checks and balances in place, but this shows it can be a safe process.''

The program, launched in 2005, was helping to improve home birth's poor public image, but was still too restrictive for most women, and had abandoned some in the late stages of their pregnancies, the secretary of Homebirth Australia, Justine Caines, said. ''It is very positive to hear an obstetrician supportive of home birth, [but] this program excludes women without a strong evidence base,'' she said.

''Women have a right to informed consent and there is an ethical responsibility for a health service not to abandon [them], instead to offer the best health care possible consistent with a woman's choice.''

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