Interest in home births on the rise

Having your baby at home is no more risky than having her in the hospital, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The study reviewed records of more than 12,000 home and hospital births over four years in British Columbia.

Women who gave birth at home were actually less likely to need interventions, such as electronic fetal monitoring, or to face problems such as vaginal tearing or hemorrhaging, the study found.

“It’s a very important study in that it does continue the debate about safety,” says Karla Nacion, coordinator of the nurse-midwifery program at the University of Illinois Chicago. She says the study reflects similar findings from other countries such as the United Kingdom and Sweden about the relative safety of home births.

But both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association oppose home births. The groups note that complications can occur suddenly, even in low-risk pregnancies, which require immediate medical attention to keep the mother and child safe.

Still, Nacion says she’s seen an increased interest in home births in the past five years. Midwives in the Chicago area who offer home birth services “have more patients wanting their services than they can comfortably handle,” she says.

Home births may be on the rise in part due to publicized choices by celebrities, as well as a popular documentary called “The Business of Being Born,” produced by former talk show host Ricki Lake, which highlights home birth. Also, some expectant mothers may worry about the increased use of Caesarean sections in hospitals, up 50 percent in the U.S. from 1996 to 2006, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

While the Canadian study provides a strong argument for home birth under the right circumstances, Nacion says, detractors argue the U.S. is different. Midwives are licensed on a state-level in the U.S. and the level of care may be less consistent. Also, detractors say the variety of insurance coverage, combined with the diverse populations in the U.S., equal more high-risk pregnancies that require hospital births.

Still, Nacion notes, America’s infant mortality rate is higher than 28 other countries, many of which support and encourage home births.

“We have this great health care system, but it’s not doing the best for women and children,” she says. “I don’t think home birth is for everybody, but hospital births may not be the best for everyone either.”

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