OBJECTIVES: the primary objective-to present data on the incidence of unplanned births before arrival (BBAs) in Victoria between 1991 and 2008. The secondary objective-to provide an extensive literature review highlighting the issues surrounding an unplanned BBA. SETTING: the incidence of BBAs in Victoria published in the relevant government reports. DESIGN: data were extracted from published government reports pertaining to perinatal statistics in Victoria-The Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing and the Perinatal Data Collection Unit of Victoria. Data on place of birth for each year from both sources was identified and tabulated. Comparisons between the data sources were undertaken to provide a picture of the scope of out of hospital birth. FINDINGS: the incidence and absolute numbers of unplanned birth before arrival (BBA) to hospital in Victoria, are low compared to the total births. However, this number is comparable to unplanned BBAs in other developed countries with similar health systems. The incidence of unplanned BBAs has slowly but steadily doubled since 1991-2008. The two data sources almost mirror each other except for 1999 when there was an unexplained difference in the reported incidence in unplanned BBAs. Maternal and neonatal outcomes are disproportionally much poorer after unplanned BBAs than either planned home births or in hospital births. Various maternal factors can increase the risk of an unplanned BBA. KEY CONCLUSIONS: multiple approaches should be adopted to manage unplanned BBAs. Antenatal screening should be undertaken to identify the women most at risk. Strategies can be developed that will reduce poor neonatal and maternal outcomes, including education for women and their partners on immediate management of the newborn; ensuring paramedics have current knowledge on care during childbirth; and maternity and ambulance services should develop management plans for care of women having unplanned BBAs.