The national implementation of an effective childbirth education program could potentially save the national healthcare system $97 million each year, according to an Australian-first study.
Researchers assessed the Complementary Therapies for Labour and Birth program and found the two day antenatal course had the potential to drastically reduce the number of caesarean section births, leading to huge healthcare savings.
The CLTB course incorporates six evidence-based complementary medicine techniques. Participants are taught evidence-based pain management skills including meditation, breathing techniques, yoga and acupressure to use during labour, and partner support is encouraged.
According to the study authors, the CLTB course is different to current hospital-based programs which focus on medical interventions and that cover pregnancy through to the first few weeks of a newborn's life.
The aim of the study, carried out by the University of Notre Dame, The National Institute of Complementary Medicine and Western Sydney University, was to assess whether CTLB program led to net cost savings. Researchers found there was a potential saving of up to $808 per woman, with the main cost saving resulting from the "reduced rate of caesarean section". Women who took part in the course were also less likely to have an epidural.
The study found "significantly more women in the study group experienced a normal vaginal birth, and significantly fewer women in the study group experienced a caesarean section".
"Compared with the average cost of birth in the control group, we conclude that the program could lead to a reduction in birth-related healthcare costs of approximately nine per cent.
The study's lead author Dr Kate Levett says when applied to the 120,000 first-time mothers who give birth annually in Australia, the potential saving for hospitals, government and private health insurers is significant."
"Our previous research showed that after taking the CTLB course, approximately 82 per cent of women who were first-time mothers experienced a vaginal birth, as opposed to a caesarean section.
"With the global emphasis on reducing caesarean section rates and the budgetary constraints faced by maternity providers, the potential benefits of this intervention may be significant from both a clinical and an economical perspective."
The researchers proposed that savings generated from reduced medical interventions, specifically caesarean section, could be used to resource effective evidence-based antenatal education for women.
Sydney-based midwife Sally Dwyer agreed that those who take part in a quality childbirth education program were more likely to have a vaginal birth because the classes allowed them to trust in their body's ability to get through labour.
"If they have done classes there is a confidence that comes with trusting their body and not having so much fear about a vaginal birth," said Ms Dwyer, who runs private antenatal classes through her business Midwife to Mum.
"So that would increase their chance of having a vaginal birth.
"I do agree that antenatal education is very important for women and their partners to build confidence and trust with their own body and to help lessen the fear factor that can be associated with birth.
"Helping to demist myths, explain the mechanics of what is happening with her body and listening to the questions women have about birth is vital."
However, Ms Dwyer, a mum of three, pointed out that no amount of education guaranteed a straight forward delivery and sometimes a caesarean was necessary for the health of mother and baby.
"Our philosophy is healthy mum and healthy baby. In some cases, it is not possible to have a vaginal birth. Sometimes complications arise which require a caesarean birth," she said.
"However, being prepared emotionally and physically is of great benefit regardless of the mode of birth."
Dr Levett said antenatal education programs like CTLB could reduce the stress of childbirth and save valuable hospital resources.
"Previous research has shown the antenatal CTLB program significantly reduces epidural use, as well as reducing a range of other clinical interventions that have important adverse consequences, including caesarean section, if overused in healthy women and babies," Dr Levett said.