Is A Home Birth Risky For Babies? Are Mothers Selfish For Trying?

A new study claims that home births are riskier for babies while safer for moms. However, not everyone agrees that the numbers add up.

Newly born baby

Researchers from the US are claiming that their study shows that home birth causes double the deaths of infants than hospital births. After studying more than 500,000 women in both the US and Europe, the researchers are arguing against a previous study that found no difference in safety between home and hospital birth. Not everyone is agreeing with the new study’s research.

350,000 women who had planned home births were compared to only 200,000 women who had planned hospital births. The researchers looked at where the women planned to give birth, rather than where the actual birth took place. Infant deaths that took place in hospitals after a home-to-hospital change would then be counted as a home-birth death. Even with this, the death rate for infants counted as home births were only 0.2 percent.

The researchers granted that home births were often safer for mothers. Fewer interventions meant that mothers who choose home have fewer tears, hemorrhaging, and infections. However, they are quick to point out that mothers are risking their infants’ lives for their own safer births.

“Women choosing home birth, particularly low-risk individuals who had given birth previously, are in large part successful in achieving their goal of delivering with less morbidity and medical intervention than experienced during hospital-based childbirth,” said lead author Dr Joseph Wax from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Maine Medical Center.

“Of significant concern, these apparent benefits are associated with a doubling of the neonatal mortality rate overall and a near tripling among infants born without congenital defects.”

Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK, said the findings should be considered but do not necessarily rule out home birth. He feels that by providing more medical care to women who are high-risk, and by ensuring that midwives are equipped with good resuscitation skills many of these deaths can easily be avoided without giving up home as an option.

“With the above systems in place and provided women receive one-to-one midwifery care, planned home births for low-risk women are a viable option,” said Prof Arulkumaran.

Mervi Jokinen of the Royal College of Midwives feels that because so many countries were studied the results are skewed by those countries with poorer rates.

“Comparison of the results is difficult because the study’s authors are working with data collected differently in many countries.

“Here we have services delivered by midwives who are skilled and experienced at home births and resuscitating newborns.

“This is perhaps in contrast to many of the other countries this research covers.”

Home birth rates vary by country. In places like the Netherlands, nearly one-third of all births are home births. In the US, only one out of 200 is a home birth.

The entire study will be published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. – Summer, Staff Writer

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About the author


Summer is a mom of three, living life in the slow lane along historic Route 66. She writes, homeschools, gardens, and is still trying to learn how to knit.

1 Comment

  • I’m sorry but I think this is yet another study undertaken without proper planning and research. It always annoys me that such sweeeping statements are made behind the use of vague comments such as “it maybe be” or “it seems” and published with no seeming thought to what negative effect it may have. I live in the UK not a country renowned for excellence as a rule and had two babies in Hospital and two at Home. With both the Hospital babies there were either problems with the children or unnecessary injury to myself. After the second, which was extremely fast it was suggested I might think about a home birth as there was a real risk I would not make the Hospital on time. As after that birth I suffered weeks of pain and had milk flow problems triggered by the injuries caused by an overworked short handed midwife, and after going indepth into what risks this might pose I decided to try the Home Birth with the option of a Hospital delivery incase of complications. This did not arise and after a far higher level of care in preparation delivered my third child perfectly safely at home. He grew into a very contented child due in part I’m certain to his calm relaxed delivery. Ten years on I had my fourth child at age 40 at home again without complications and injury to either of us. She is as contented and laid back as her brother and both are markedly different in disposition to their older siblings that had a Hospital birth. Whilst studies can be important in gaining informtion, here at least it is perfectly safe to Home Deliver providing care and high levels of monitoring go on through the Pregnancy and Birth. At no time were either baby at any more risk than they would have faced in Hospital and seem to be more immune to childhood viruses and illness than the older two. I’m a strong advocate for Home Birth as an option as long as all possible checks and precautions are in place as they should be with any Pregnancy anyway. The children were also not exposed to any chance of illness carried in by visitors from the outside or by being in a ward full of other mothers and chldren during the firt few days of life on the ‘outside’. If mum and baby are healthy, if the risk of prolapse is as reduced as possible, (and a prolapse in Hospital is as likely to cause infant death as at Home), if staff and equipment are of a high level and easily available, in my experiemce the Home Birth certainly seems to benefit both mum and baby equally. I viewed this report with deep misgiving especially as was stated the information came from various different countries but was all lumped together to produce the results. Was I selfish choosing this option, I really don’t think so as both children seem to have gained by it. If you research, ask questions and ensure that the staff etc you will have with you are the best possible, and again at Home the Midwives are able to give one to one care not try to monitor several labours at once, I can only sum up with one phrase, Your baby, Your body, Your choice!

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