Speedy homecoming ... Fiona Lewis left hospital within hours of the birth of her son, Jess. Photo: Janie Barrett
Hospital to home in four hours? It would have been unheard of a generation ago when new mothers regularly spent up to two weeks in hospital, ''lying in'' post-birth.
But in the NSW maternity wards of the future, it won't be unusual for women to give birth in the morning and go home in time for lunch.
Early hospital discharge for women with low-risk pregnancies, uncomplicated vaginal births, a healthy baby and good support at home, is part of NSW Health's Towards Normal Birth directive, to be implemented by 2015.
Women who opt to go home early would be visited by a midwife for up to two weeks after the birth. The directive, which aims to normalise natural childbirth, also includes a target of 35 per cent of women receiving continuity of care from a midwife throughout their pregnancy, labour and postnatal period.
A spokesman for NSW Health said women already had the choice to leave hospital within four to six hours of delivery, ''assessed on a case-by-case basis'' and ''the final decision is always made in the best interest of the mother and baby''.
Dr Hannah Dahlen, professor of midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, said there was no reason why more women could not leave hospital soon after giving birth, particularly when they were under the care of the same midwife throughout.
''I hope this is the future,'' Professor Dahlen said.
''Many countries have shown us that it can work very well; Australia has lagged behind. I think we are starting to see the light and give women more choice.''
Dr Rupert Sherwood, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said if women could be well cared for at home, it would alleviate pressure on maternity staff.
''If the postnatal care can be done safely in the community, that can have benefits in terms of freeing up those highly developed skills of the midwives in terms of labour room care,'' Dr Sherwood said.
Fiona Lewis, a mother of three from Artarmon, left hospital within four hours of delivery of each of her children.
''I don't really like hospitals and my feeling is that if you're not sick there is no need to be in one,'' she said. ''I wanted to go home as early as possible if I was healthy and the baby was healthy. I would rather be in my own home, in my own bed.''
However, Louise Duursma, NSW president of the Australian Breastfeeding Association, had concerns about early discharge programs. She said the state was over-represented in calls to the association's helpline, which she suspected was due to women leaving hospital before feeding was well established.
''[Early discharge] has escalated over recent years without a lot of planning and thought to it,'' Ms Duursma said.
''I do feel that it's groups like ours which are left to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.''