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Home birth

Home birth is childbirth that occurs outside a hospital or birthing center setting, usually in the home of the mother. Home births are usually attended by a midwife (or other attending medical professional) but there are some occasions when this does not happen. If labor progresses rapidly the midwife may not have arrived in time to catch the baby, but would then give immediate postnatal care. In rare cases the decision may be made to give birth without any medical professional present – this is sometimes known as an "unassisted home birth".

In many Western countries, home birth declined over the 20th century due to migration to urban centers and the business development of hospitals supervised by obstetricians rather than midwives. There was a revival of the practice in the United States in the 1970s, with a current rate of .6%[1] - In Denmark, about 80% of all births occur at home or in freestanding birth centers run by midwives. In the Netherlands, about 30% of all births occur at home, and midwifery run units rather than obstetric hospitals care for all other low-risk women.

Increasing numbers of pregnant women in the U.K. are choosing home over hospital when it comes to giving birth, new figures have suggested.[2] The greatest rise in home births was seen in Wales, and Wales now has a higher home birth rate than England, Scotland and Ireland. The county of Devon has the highest number of home births in England, with a rate of 5.4 per cent - more than double the UK average.

The American College of Nurse Midwives and the American Public Health Association have policy statements supporting the practice of home birth for low-risk populations of women, whereas the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' (ACOG) position statement contends that birth should only take place in the hospital setting. Private hospitals rely on childbirth as a major source of profit, though it is not a disease. [3]

For low-risk pregnancies, a number of studies have shown that planned, assisted home births are at least as safe as hospital births.[4] There are fewer medical interventions, such as cesarean sections, forceps or ventouse (vacuum extractor) deliveries, episiotomies and administration of pain medication such as epidurals, all of which may pose some risk to the health of the mother and baby of which a homebirth can help minimise.

Additional recommended knowledge


Differing opinions

  Proponents of home birth prefer the atmosphere and safety of a home birth. The mother has more control over her surroundings, and can eat and move around, sleep and do anything she pleases - activities which may be discouraged in a hospital setting. The mother is often more comfortable in her own home and increased comfort contributes to shorter labor. [5]

Hospital-acquired infections involving antibiotic resistant pathogens[6][7] such as staph (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and others) are less likely to be transferred to the mother or child when the birth takes place at home. However, in the case of emergencies such as cord prolapse, breathing problems with the infant, inverted uterus, or bleeding of the mother, there is less access to life-saving equipment. Properly trained midwives can manage such emergencies until the woman can be transferred to a hospital.

Conversely, some mothers are more comfortable in a hospital setting because they implicitly trust the medical system and because they prefer to be closer to an operating room should an emergency arise. Most hospitals have a policy of trying to deliver the baby within 30 minutes of determining a caesarean is required, however, owing to the theatre preparation time, this goal is only achieved 66% of the time. Despite this, there is no statistical increase in morbidity or mortality when it takes longer than 30 minutes. This generally fits with the view that very few obstetric emergencies require immediate action. [8]


A recent study in the British Medical Journal, "Outcomes of planned home births with certified professional midwives: large prospective study in North America" (Johnson & Daviss, June 2005), concluded that outcomes were just as good and "medical intervention rates (such as epidural, episiotomy, forceps, ventouse, and caesarean section) were substantially lower than for low risk US women having hospital births." For example, amongst the home birth women, 3.7% ended up having a caesarean section compared to 19% for the US as a whole (for a similar risk profile) [2000 data]. The intrapartum and neonatal mortality was 1.7 deaths per 1000 low risk intended home births after planned breeches and twins (not considered low risk) were excluded.[9]

The National Center for Health and Clinical Excellence, a healthcare watchdog organization in the UK, has recently performed a comprehensive review of homebirth literature and concluded that high-quality research is lacking, specifically with regard to the number of babies who die at home births versus hospital births, but feel that women should be given the choice of where to birth:

“The quality of evidence available is not as good as it should be for such an important healthcare issue and most studies do not report complete or consistent outcome data. Planning birth outside an obstetric unit seems to be associated with an increase in spontaneous vaginal births, an increase in women with an intact perineum and improved maternal satisfaction.

“Of particular concern is the lack of reliable data, relating to relatively rare but serious outcomes such as IPPM [intrapartum-related perinatal mortality] in all places of birth. Uncontrolled confounding and selection bias are particular methodological limitations of most studies. The GDG was unable to reassure itself that planning birth in a non-obstetric setting is as safe in this respect as birth in an obstetric unit.

“Women should be offered the choice of planning birth at home, in a midwifery unit or in an obstetric unit. Women should be reassured that intrapartum-related perinatal mortality is low in all settings. Before making their choice, women should be informed of the variable quality of the information comparing the potential risks and benefits of each birth setting.”[10]

According to Enkin et al in the work A Guide To Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth; "Women with low risk pregnancies considering out of hospital birth should not be discouraged."[11]

Legal situation in the United States


No state prosecutes mothers for giving birth outside of a hospital. However, midwives who assist at such births may be prosecuted in some areas.

In the early and mid 1900s, physicians pushed to have midwifery banned throughout the United States. Childbirth became very clinical with the mother generally subdued with leather straps and ether. In 37 states it is once again legal to acquire the services of a midwife. Many midwives continue to attend mothers in states where it is illegal, while efforts are underway to change the law.

Practicing as a direct-entry midwife is still (as of May 2006) illegal under certain circumstances in Washington, D.C. and the following states: Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.[12] However, Certified Nurse Midwives can legally practice in these areas.

People wishing to have a midwife-assisted home birth in the United States should always research the applicable laws in their home state.

Legal situation in Australia

Whilst there is no restriction on having homebirths in Australia, it is illegal for midwives to practice in some Australian States and Territories, because they are unable to obtain professional indemnity insurance. Medical practitioners in some Australian jurisdictions must have insurance before they can practice. After the collapse of the large Australian insurer HIH, the remaining Australian insurance companies ceased offering insurance to home birth midwives, as they claimed that the pool of midwives requiring insurance was too small to make it commercially viable. Without insurance, many independently practicing midwives have elected to discontinue providing independent services, even though they are qualified health professionals and are allowed to practice within hospitals.

When several large insurance companies threatened to withdraw insurance for obstetricians in 2002, the Australian Government immediately responded and provided a A$600 million dollar (over 4 years) subsidy to the obstetricians to allow them to continue to practice legally.

Some State Governments have now introduced government funded home birth services, including the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia. In April 2007, the Western Australian Government announced that it would be expanding birth at home across the State.[13]

Additional reading

  • A Good Birth, A Safe Birth : Choosing and Having the Childbirth Experience You Want. (1992), Korte, Diana, Boston, MA: USA, The Harvard Common Press.
  • Birthing From Within: An Extra-Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation. (1998), England, Horowitz NM: USA, Partera Press.
  • A Wise Birth. Bringing together the best of natural childbirth with modern medicine, Armstrong P & Feldman S, 1990, reissued 2007, Pinter & Martin, ISBN 978-1-905177-03-5
  • Having a Great Birth in Australia Ed David Vernon, Australian College of Midwives, Canberra, 2005 ISBN 0-9751674-3-X
  • Men at Birth Ed David Vernon, Australian College of Midwives, Canberra, 2006, ISBN 0-9751674-4-8
  • Home Birth: A Practical Guide, Wesson, Nicky, 2006, Pinter & Martin, ISBN 978-1-905177-06-6
  • The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth, by Henci Goer
  • Lamaze Institute for Normal Birth
  • The American Way of Birth, Jessica Mitford

See also


  1. ^ Maternity Care Reference Report
  2. ^
  3. ^ Policy Statements
  4. ^
  5. ^ David Vernon Having a Great Birth in Australia, Canberra, 2005
  6. ^ Example in Ireland
  7. ^ Example in Australia
  8. ^ [ Interval between decision and delivery by caesarean section are current standards achievable? Observational case series Tuffnell, Wilkinson and Beresford 2001
  9. ^ Outcomes of planned home births with certified professional midwives: large prospective study in North America, BMJ 2005;330:1416 (18 June).
  10. ^ National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health as Commissioned by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence Second Consultation on Chapter 3, Planning place of birth, Intrapartum care, (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London, 22 March 2007)
  11. ^ Enkin, M, A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth, (Oxford University Press, 2000)
  12. ^ Midwives Alliance of North America.
  13. ^ Need for Birthing at Home
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Home_birth". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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