DOZENS of Victorians have literally been left holding babies after they were forced to assist women giving birth outside hospitals on roads and in supermarkets, among other places.
New Ambulance Victoria data shows about 190 women give birth a year in Victoria with the help of bystanders before paramedics get to them.
While nine out of 10 of these births occurred in homes, others happened in public places including police stations, the airport and in the mother's workplace.
In 73 per cent of cases, the mothers' partners or other family members assisted with the birth, but 3 per cent of the time, neighbours stepped in. Thirty-nine of the women, or 21 per cent, gave birth alone.
The research, which looked at ambulance calls to birthing women in one year since 2007, found there were 324 unplanned births that occurred before women could get to hospital, including the 189 that occurred without paramedics present.
Overall, paramedics attended 1642 birthing women in a year - an average of four a day. Most of the calls, 1304, were to help women in labour while 338 were to help women who had already given birth.
Twenty cases involved planned home births, representing 6.6 per cent of all home births that occurred in Victoria that year. Of the 20 calls for help, six were for transport to hospital during labour and 14 were to help mothers and babies after birth.
Gayle McLelland, a Monash University PhD student who is researching paramedics' encounters with birthing women, said although she could not comment on all of the outcomes for mothers and babies, only 10 per cent experienced complications such as shoulder dystocia (baby stuck after the head is out) or a postpartum haemorrhage.
She said about 19 per cent of the women who had unplanned births out of hospital were first-time mothers and 13 per cent of the babies were premature, arriving before 36 weeks.
Ms McLelland, who is also a midwife, said pregnant women needed to plan their births because it could be dangerous to get caught without assistance. The biggest risk was for the baby to get cold, she said, because this could cause hypothermia and low blood sugar levels, requiring admission to a special care nursery.
''Those first few minutes are important. If you can keep the baby warm with skin to skin contact, it will help,'' she said.