Birthing on Country
The best start in life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies and their families.
Birthing on Country is a metaphor for the best start in life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies and their families, an appropriate transition to motherhood and parenting for women and an integrated, holistic and culturally appropriate model of care for all
For more than 60,000 years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have birthed their babies on traditional lands.
Birthing on Country has been described as an international movement with the overarching aim of returning birthing services to Indigenous communities and Indigenous control to enable a healthy start to life.
The Birthing on Country agenda relates to system-wide reform and is perceived as an important opportunity in ‘closing the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health and quality of life outcomes.
In 2012, the Australian Maternity Services Inter-jurisdictional Committee, in collaboration with the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, held the first national Birthing on Country Workshop to progress Australian Government commitment to Birthing on Country.
People gathered from across Australia, with a strong Indigenous presence, to discuss Birthing on Country and determine the next steps. Participants agreed that the Birthing on Country project, should move from being aspirational (policy) to actual (implementation). They recommended exemplar sites be set up in urban, rural, remote and very remote communities and funded for success and sustainability.
What is Birthing on Country?
Birthing on Country is an international social justice movement to redress the negative impact of colonisation and return childbirth services to First Nations communities and First Nations control.
Birthing on Country is a metaphor for the best start in life for First Nations families.
The term recognises that when women give birth in Australia, they are doing so on the sovereign lands of the First peoples of Australia who have never ceded ownership of their land, seas and sky.
Birthing on Country Services: are recommended in national policy where they are described as services that are:
“community-based and governed; allow for incorporation of traditional practice; involve a connection with land and country; incorporate a holistic definition of health; value Indigenous and non‐Indigenous ways of knowing and learning, risk assessment and service delivery; are culturally competent; and developed by, or with, Indigenous people”.
Birthing on Country Facilities provide a dedicated hub for the services, some aim to incorporate a First Nations owned birth centre (National Maternity Services Capability Framework: Level 2).
Ireland S, Roe Y, Moore S, et al. Birthing on Country for the best start in life: returning childbirth services to Yolŋu mothers, babies and communities in North East Arnhem, Northern Territory. Medical Journal of Australia, 2022.
Kildea S, Lockey R, Roberts J, Magick-Dennis F. Guiding Principles for Developing a Birthing on Country Service Model and Evaluation Framework, Phase 1. Brisbane: Mater Medical Research Unit and the University of Queensland on behalf of the Maternity Services Inter-Jurisdictional Committee for the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, 2016.
COAG Health Council. Woman-centred care: Strategic directions for Australian maternity services. Canberra: COAG Health Council as represented by the Department of Health, 2019.
AHMAC. National Maternity Services Plan, 2011. Canberra: Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council, Commonwealth of Australia, 2011.
Kildea S, Van Wagner V. ‘Birthing on Country,’ Maternity Service Delivery Models: A review of the literature. Canberra, An Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute: Maternity Services Inter-Jurisdictional Committee for the Australian Health Minister’s Advisory Council, 2012.
AHMAC. National Maternity Services Capability Framework. 2012. http://www.qcmb.org.au/media/pdf/The%20National%20Maternity%20Services%20Capability%20Framework.pdf