Homebirth: How Risky Is It?

homebirth couple

Just shy of a mere few years ago, women would have never dreamed of giving birth at a hospital. Hospitals were considered little better than morgues, full of germs and a place where people entered, only never to return. Birth, with its emotions, intense highs and lows, and overwhelming joy, just didn’t fit into that picture. A homebirth was the standard of care, and anything else was considered irresponsible and downright scary.

Today, however, the opposite is often true. Women who choose homebirth are often looked at quizzically or in some cases, accused of endangering their baby.

As a labor and delivery nurse, I can admit that I do have concerns about homebirth. That’s not to say I would ever say that I am against homebirth, as I fully believe that women and families need to be their own birth advocate, but I will admit that I am a bit scared of what a homebirth entails. I’ve seen enough emergency cases to fear the worst of what could happen in a matter of seconds at home, away from access to life-saving emergency equipment.

That being said, however, I will also admit that sometimes, intense and unnecessary hospital interventions can contribute to emergencies during labor and delivery, so I am fully aware of the chicken-or-the-egg dilemma when it comes to homebirth arguments.

The bottom line is, I’m no homebirth expert. So I did a little digging to uncover some statistics about homebirth.

  • According to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), homebirth is one the rise, jumping up 29% in the last five years
  • Less than 1% of births occur in the home.
  • Homebirth has a lower “risk profile than hospital birth—meaning that the women who choose homebirth are generally healthy, with no other complications during the pregnancy.
  • A 2011 study by the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology concluded that the lack of medical intervention during planned homebirths led to a tripling of infant mortality.
  • Interestingly, the study also found that planned homebirths led to less maternal complications, including lacerations, hemorrhage, episiotomies, c-sections and infections.
  • For babies, the study found that planned homebirths were associated with less frequent prematurity, low birthweights, and assisted newborn ventilation.

 

Would you ever consider a homebirth? 

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Image via Flickr [eyeliam

What do you think?

Homebirth: How Risky Is It?

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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76 comments

  1. Victoria says:

    I am 22 years old and have chosen to do a natural birth from a birthing center. My mother had all three of my brothers and sisters at home and my boyfriend’s mother had two of his siblings at home and she even saw my youngest brother being born when she was a midwife in training before me and my guy knew each other. Personally, we chose a birthing center instead of a home birth because we live in an apartment. I love our midwives, who are very well educated on holistic remedies and very knowledgeable in natural birth’s since they too have had them with several children.
    Not only are they so kind, but their sincerity is heartwarming and makes me feel like they really care about me and the overall health and development of my baby as well as my relationship with my guy. It’s very personal and they are very soothing people. They also network with doula’s, chiropractors, prenatal massage therapists, photographers, and a really great childbirth education classes so I have many options at my fingertips. I can also get ahold of them at any time of day which is hard to say about any doctor (I hate talking to nurses!!!!).
    We chose to give birth at the birthing center for several reasons. The first being that they have equipment there in case of a complication. That was very important to me because every second that passes could mean the difference between a healthy baby and one with serious problems or worse. The second is that is 90 seconds away from the nearest hospital. Third is that they have a rather large waiting room for my family and friends to wait since I will probably have quite a few people attending lol. Lastly, it is rather homey. Each room is beautifully decorated to promote relaxation and comfort, the rooms are quite large, they have a jacuzzi if you would like to have a water birth, and they have a surround sound system in which you can hook music up to or play CD’s! That’s just awesome.
    Personally I cannot wait for my beautiful baby girl to arrive in such a wonderful place with the help of these amazing ladies that are truly dedicated to serving women, daddy’s and little one’s seeing the world for the first time!

  2. Tania says:

    If you want to have a home birth go ahead, if you want you want to deliver in a hospital go ahead!
    Personally I think is up to each mom to decide whether she wants to have a home birth or not, she the one bearing the child and she should decide what she feels is best for her at the time of delivery. This is just as controversial as the “circumcision” debate everyone has their 2 cents on it but at the end is up to the parents to decide. What I could suggest is just to do your homework on it and take it from there. I’m a mother of two my first was deliver in a hospital, now my second was deliver at home but not by choice. I simply had no time to make it to the hospital and he was born at home as I laid on my bathroom floor, my husband was at work and I was home alone with my older child (who is 10yrs old). So basically I delivered my son on my own no midwife, nurses, doctors, doulas etc… By the time paramedics arrived my son was already born all they did was cut the umblical cord and clean him up to then transport us to the hospita. Both my sons where born healthy with no complications. So to all moms to be Good Luck whether you want to deliver in a hospital or have a homebirth.

  3. tiffany says:

    I personally wouldn’t have a home birth even though I have thought about it. I dont want to deal with the clean up of it after having the baby and feel like the hospital forces me to relax and focus on me and my baby instead of everything happening in my home. I have had wonderful and aweful hospital experiences and still choose the hospital. For emergencies and for overall healing, but that is because I know me and know I want to get up right away and start cleaning and takibg care of my family and wont allow my body to rest and heal.

  4. Squiggles says:

    I personally would never have a home birth. I had a fabulous hospital birth with my first child and the wonderful epidural. I just relaxed and chatted with my husband and took a cat nap for a few hours. Then just pushed out my baby once I was fully dialated. I plan to do the same for my current pregnancy. I see no point in being in pain if you don’t have to be. At the end of the day you will have a baby no matter what.

    Let’s all keep in mind that in a hospital you always have a choice. They can’t force you into an induction or elective c-section! If you and your dr aren’t on the same page when it comes to a birth plan, change doctors! There is always someone out there that will want the same thing as you. Sometimes even those with the best of intentions end up needing a c-section. I know many friends who just stopped dialting at 7 or 8, whose water never broke, and there baby was is distress. These are in very healthy women with low risk pregnancies. Things can change in an instant and for me I would want to be in a place where they could save my babies life and/or mine if something terrible were to arise.

    Luckily we all have a choice either way!!

  5. Melody says:

    Ok Ladies, this is not a scary thing to give birth at home if it’s planned for at home. You don’t just pick some crazy person off the street that claims to be a midwife even as you wouldn’t pick any doctor to help birth your baby. You research your options for good qualified home birth midwives. Let me tell you that we have amazing midwives who know what they are doing and I honestly feel that they know more than some of these docs in the hospital settings. These midwives are trained for anything and will notice the slightest problem if something starts to go wrong with enough time to get to a hospital. They ALWAYS have a plan B. It’s not an option not to have one. Each home birth midwife has their own hosptial they like to work with if something should come up in the birth that they know needs more medical attention than they can give. If you haven’t had a home birth or talked to ladies who have you will not know all the details and planning that goes into one and therefore cannot judge it before not knowing the info. My first was a home birth and this second one coming anyday will be a home birth, Lord willing. Also these midwives have WAY more tricks up their sleeves for helping a birth along if it seems to not be progressing as fast or if something needs a little tweaking. Whereas if you are in a hospital you have way too many interventions offered which then can negativily affect the outcome of the birth and recovery afterwards. I could go on and on about this but I won’t. What I don’t like hearing if ppl bashing home birth or coming up with negative remarks about who have not experienced it, thoroughly researched it or more importantly talked to ladies and midwives who have done it. It is a choice of the woman and her husband who are having a baby and shoudk to be bashed because they are doing things that are supposedly out of the box for other ppl. I for one feel very nervous in hospitals and feel much more relaxed and safe at home knowing it’s just my husband and the midwives attending. Keeps it simple, sweet and private. No one coming in to “check” me constantly, no gadgets hooked up to me, I can walk or move or vocalize without feeling like I’m bothering anyone nearby, eat my own foods, take a shower in my own shower, to into my own bed, etc etc. one more thing then I will quit harping on it- Baby will not be contaminated for being born into the home it’s going to live in. If the house is not clean or disinfected it’s only going to make Baby stronger health wise and build up their immune system. Hospitals are the places that are more full of germs and they are not the germs that Baby will be living in. Yes, they clean the rooms but probably not as well as we would since they are pretty busy in hospitals. Whereas we are in our house all the time and can clean it as well or not as well as we want. For the record, we have a dog and cat and our two year old has yet to have a serious illness, just occasional colds and even those are few and far between. With her being born at home my husband had just been working on the bathroom so things were not as clean as I wanted things to be because she surprised us and came quickly. All done harping, but seriously take a better look at home birth before you throw negative comments at it. It’s not for everyone but it’s not something that should be exiled from our country either.

  6. Aster says:

    It’s very simple: In the majority of car trips, seatbelts are not actually needed. I’ve been driving every day for two decades and in 99.99% of cases, it wouldn’t have made a difference if I’d worn my seatbelt or not. On top of that– for many many years in automotive history, very few people wore seatbelts. My grandfather never wore a seatbelt his entire life and he was FINE. I’ve known other people who hated to wear them and never did and never had a problem. So is driving without a seatbelt safe? Sure it is, if you look at it that way. However, on the 0.01% of cases where someone DID need the seatbelt, the lack of it could have been catastrophic for them. There are cases where the baby will need to be resuscitated in the hospital and, contrary to what many homebirth advocates would have you think, this situation can arise out of the blue at the last minute of what had been considered a low-risk pregnancy. Should that happen, there are literally minutes before you have brain damage or death. You might not even have time to get to a hospital ten minutes away. Is this a relatively rare occurrence? Yes, as is a car accident. With the studies as currently calculated, homebirth deaths are somewhere between 3.5 and 5 times as many as hospital deaths. Keep in mind that we’re talking very small numbers here– 12 vs 3 per 100,000 or whatever– but they are still more. Also– VERY IMPORTANT– when the mother is transferred to the hospital at the last minute due to a complication and the baby dies there, THAT is counted in the hospital statistic. So it’s up to everyone to decide whether the elevated risk is worth not wearing their seatbelt. You might argue that the hospital environment is much more uncomfortable than the effort required in wearing a seatbelt, so it’s worth the risk to you, considering that it is still pretty slight. That is your absolute right as an informed person to choose what risks you will accept. However, for anyone to act like the risk is the SAME is disingenuous and misleading.

    • LadiLily says:

      “homebirth deaths are somewhere between 3.5 and 5 times as many as hospital deaths” is this statistic PLANNED homebirths only or does it include UNplanned homebirths like when someone gives birth on their own and no one is trained midwife is present. I had both of my children at home and had good experiences producing two very healthy children. Even with minor complications with my first child, my midwife was very well equipped with the right tools and experience to help me give birth smoothly and no hospital run was needed even though the hospital was only 5 minutes away. After that birth and the good outcome, I felt very empowered and relaxed at my second birth, and had my son in less than 3 hours of labor.

    • Karissa says:

      These statistics are not factual at all!

    • dvmsara says:

      My thoughts exactly

    • Alicia says:

      Perfectly said!

  7. Tonya says:

    I am having a home birth any day now! I also know several others who have had repeated home births and all of them had no problems of any kind and their babies were perfectly healthy. I think that a lot of it comes down to healthy living and education. If you are a healthy female who lives a healthy lifestyle and you educate yourself well about anything out of the ordinary that could possibly occur and how to deal with that situation, then you will do well with a home birth. Also just remember that since the beginning of time females have been having babies. Our bodies are made for it and our bodies also know what to do. Good luck to any woman who wishes to go this route! You will find it very empowering, not to mention more financially friendly! 🙂 …My advice though is to be sure to gather the necessary paperwork for registering your babies birth certificate from your state, ‘before’ having your baby. That way you will already be prepared to register your baby within your states date range. (Some home births need to be registered within a certain amount of days after your baby is born otherwise it gets complicated.)

  8. Samantha says:

    I personally would not like to give a home birth. I feel as though if something went wrong I wouldn’t make it to a hospital in time or my house is simply not clean enough. I am 33 weeks and constantly cleaning as is, I can’t imagine if I were to do a home birth. That is how I feel but I think home births are beautiful and woman who do them are very strong =]

  9. Nat says:

    “Infant mortality is not the correct mortality rate for assessing whether or not childbirth in a country is safe or not. The correct rate to look at is perinatal mortality. Here’s the difference:
    Infant mortality refers to the death of a baby within the first year of life. (reference is linked) Infant mortality does not include stillborn babies (so if a baby is stillborn at a home birth it does not affect the infant mortality rate for that country). Again, infant mortality refers only to babies born alive that die before they turn one. If a baby dies at 4 days old or 364 days old it will affect the infant mortality rate. So yes, it includes pregnancy and birth-related issues that may later cause a death like birth defects, low birth weight and neonatal hemorrhage but also includes things like accidents, disease, and SIDS… those are all encompassed (and more) in the infant mortality rate. According to the CDC, in the United States, SIDS is actually the leading cause of death of infants 1-12 months of age.” quoted from http://whatifsandfears.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-business-of-being-misled.html

    This argument goes both ways and both sides are trying to say it’s the others fault when neither side is using the correct numbers. As a mom who has done both and has spent the better part of ten years educating myself of the risks of both I feel they are about the same in risk for me as a healthy woman in a pregnancy with no complications. Yes in a home birth a emergency could arise that could be resolved in a hospital but a hospital carries way more risk for infection for both baby and mommy…you go in healthy and come out sick.
    In my opinion both sides need to work together and stop fighting for top spot, like in other contries or even in tennisy where Inga May and The Farm are located and the local hospital works hand in hand with them. Why doesn’t someone do a study on the hospital/ home birth midwife relationships that work and make a plan for other areas to follow. This is not about who is right this is about saving moms and babies and a working relationship between hospitals and home birth midwifes is what it is going to take!

  10. Teresa says:

    Sometimes it is better to give birth at home if you are not high risk. It could be more comfortable and relaxing then in a hospital. You know the environment and feel safe.

  11. tangled says:

    I will do homebirth

  12. Lea says:

    I would consider giving birth at home, with the appropriate people in place. I definitely would have to have a plan b if things begin to go wrong.

  13. Martskaya says:

    The study mentioned is known to be fundamentally flawed in its design and the finding about the tripling of infant mortality is the result of a large number of unplanned home births being included in the study. For an in-depth discussion about the many problems with this particular study and to learn about more valid and scientific studies that support the safety of planned home birth for healthy pregnancies (plus so much more useful information about normal birth in the US), see Ina May Gaskin’s Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta.

    I had a home birth with my second and know dozens of women who have had healthy, successful home births. Personally, I am glad to know that technology is available if a problem comes up, but I don’t want it if I don’t need it. OBs are generally trained to use the technology they have (because they are surgeons and because it’s a business). Many have never witnessed a normal, regular birth and don’t know how to support a woman through it without interventions. Every woman has to know where they’ll feel safest and best-suported for her birth. It’s up to each of us to do our research and know what type of birth we want and try to find the provider that will help us meet our goals.

  14. laura says:

    My husband loves the idea of a home birth. I know a few midwives and am actually thinking of having a home birth now. Seeing all the pros and cons really helped. Listening to women who have had both home births and hospital births was just amazing, you wouldn’t believe the differences. If anyone had any questions I would recommend watching the documentary “The Business of Being Born”. Very informational and eye opening. I talked to a few ob/gyn’s and they admitted that a home birth IS the safer option. Also if you want to hear real women talk about the differences in home and hospital birthing (including celebrities), I would also watch “More Business of Being Born”. Mind blowing.

  15. MrsPearson says:

    I would love to have my baby at home cause i get nervous when im in the hospital but i know its like the safest way to give birth with all the supplies or what not.

  16. Amanda Zwick says:

    I see why people do this but it’s definitely not for me. I think there are too many risks and things that can go wrong between the mother and child during labor. At least if I’m in a hospital they will have the necessary tools for us to make it. These people are trained for disasters and can handle it immediately. Birth at home would require me being transported to a hospital anyways if it came down to me bleeding out or baby can’t regulate temperature, or one of the many other risks etc. Definitely do what makes you most comfortable! I’m sure both methods have their pro’s and con’s of course.

  17. ErinF says:

    And then I realized that there’s a comment above mine, heh… by "above comment," To clarify, I was referring to the original comment.

  18. ErinF says:

    Alternatively, a lot of complications occur due to medical intervention–mothers are induced due to arbitrary dating, and caesarians are performed after the induction fails because the baby was not ready. Labors are longer and more difficult if the mother’s movement is restricted by IVs and internal monitors. My midwife has attended over 1500 successful home births to healthy babies in her 30 years of practice, operating under the philosophy that pregnancy and birth are natural, normal states and not a disease process. I think it’s important that we as women do not scare other women into choosing one way or another, and instead encourage confidence in ourselves, and education and decision-making based on individual circumstances. (Not to say that this is what’s happening in the above comment, but I do see a lot of arguments trying to persuade women against natural births by playing into maternal fears).

  19. Kimberly says:

    and a side note I had to be induced because of pre-eclempsia that caused me to gain 20 pounds in one week. Well I was supposed to be induced they put in something to ripen my cervix and within 10 minuted of that being in there I went into labor on my own

  20. Kimberly says:

    No I really, can’t see myself doing birth at home. I loved the doctor I had and he was very helpful and answered all my questions in fact I was delivered by an on call doctor and he was fantastic as well. Ella was early by a month and I was so glad I was in the hospital with people who knew what to expect and knew what to do with her after the fact. She was perfectly fine just super small, but I was glad I was there so if something were amiss she would have everything and everyone she needed to make it. The nurses were also fantastic about helping me and my husband after birth they were just amazing and I will be going to the same hospital again.

  21. Melinda says:

    I’d like to have a home birth, but it isn’t an option for me, but I don’t want other women denied this wonderful process! And our state is not Midwife/home birth friendly because of too many Medical Lobbyists….. If you need a hospital birth it is okay! If you desire a home birth-great!!! And hospitals are dirtier than you might think! I know my home is filled w/germs, but on the same note in 1-3 days the baby will be exposed those germs once you bring him or her home!

  22. Melinda says:

    There is a higher infant and mother mortality rate by giving birth in a hospital as opposed to a home birth or a birthing center……. Because of the forced c-sections, scare tactics, and induced labor w/medications to "help" ease pain….. This is based upon the WHO not the American Obstetrics….. If I could I probably would have my baby at home but you ALWAYS have an emergency plan in place if complications should arise!! Any thinking mother-to-be and midwife already knows this!!!

  23. babytoes30 says:

    Once again, the 3% is a skewed number because it takes into account UNplanned home births… meaning women who were unable to make it to the hospital in time and birth their babies into bad conditions. And Brittania is VERY wrong that the 1% rate in hospitals has to do with home births gone wrong! She is completely mis-informed!

  24. babytoes30 says:

    Actually you are very incorrect. Statistically speaking, the 3% come from women who do NOT plan a home birth and do NOT make it to the hospital in time, and the baby is born on the side of a road, back seat of a car etc. If you REMOVE the unplanned home births from the equation it is closer to .5%. People have such bad information, it’s really shocking!

  25. Tracy Dole says:

    No, she didn’t. She birthed with a midwife she wasn’t happy with. She doesn’t say if she was unhappy about it before the birth or not until…happens to women in the hospital too…they may not even know their OB that well, or they may end up with and L&D nurse from hell…at that point, it’s a bit late to do something about it…as she found out with her midwife. Difference is, with a midwife, you should be having long enough appointments that you know whether or not you’re going to get along. An OB…not so much.

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