Is A Home Birth Safe?

So You're Thinking Of A Homebirth?

Every year in America nearly 50,000 women give birth to their babies at home (image). Although homebirths only account for 1 percent of all births, the numbers are increasing annually. The rise is particularly notable in women who have already given birth in hospital which seems to indicate they are reacting to the experience they had. The figures for home births in the United Kingdom are also increasing and are now account for 3 percent of all births. In the Netherlands they represent a whopping 30 percent of all births! The growing popularity of waterbirths have contributed to this increase.

So we know they are becoming increasingly popular, but are home births safe? According to many studies, giving birth at home appears to be just as safe as giving birth in hospital as long as:

• The woman is low risk for complications. You are considered high risk if you:
- Suffer high blood pressure.
- Have diabetes.
- Had any previous complications in delivery such as premature labor.
• You are not pregnant with twins.
• You have not suffered pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia.
• Your baby is not in the breech position by week 37.
• You have fast access to a hospital in an emergency situation.
• You choose experienced caregivers to assist with the birth, such as a midwife and doula.

What The Experts Say
The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) are opposed to home births. They insist that hospitals are a safer option because doctors are not always able to predict which women are likely to experience complications; and if a complication arises, speedy access to medical care is critical. Consequently they insist that deliveries should be made in hospital or at accredited birthing centers. On the other hand, the Governing Council of the American Public Health Association and the American College of Nurse-Midwives disagree. They say that as long as backup arrangements for transfer to a hospital in case of emergency are made, and the woman is supported by a qualified caregiver, then a home birth is perfectly safe.

What Studies Show
One of the main reasons women choose to have a baby at home is to reduce their risk of an over-medicalized hospital birth. Epidural injections and cesarean deliveries in hospital are at an all time high. C-sections have risen to 31 percent of all deliveries in the past decade. In comparison, only 4 percent of home births result in a woman being transferred to hospital for a cesarean. In general it would be fair to say that mothers who choose to give birth at home are relatively well informed people. They plan and think their options through. They come to the conclusion that they will be better off at home, away from the unnecessary medical interventions that they feel are likely to be pushed on them in hospital.

Another study published by the British Medical Journal in 2005 found that the rate of death in new born babies was fairly much the same whether or not they were born at home or in hospital. And many other studies indicate that home births have more or less the same rate of infections and injuries as hospital births. The other factor which may be a consideration of course is cost. A typical uncomplicated vaginal birth at home costs about 60 percent less than a hospital birth. This is particularly relevant to women with limited or no medical insurance. See prenatal care costs.

Bottom Line: As long as you are experiencing a normal, low-risk pregnancy, a home birth is certainly an option worth exploring.

• Need more information on delivery and childbirth? See: Guide to Childbirth
• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions

Related Childbirth Questions
How many cesareans can you have?
How do I know if I'm in labor?
Is an epidural safe?
Books on childbirth.

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