Should I Think About Home Birth?
Have you considered giving birth at home? For some women, this idea might sound a bit strange. Isn’t a hospital the only place you can give birth? Actually, no. Giving birth at home is something that women have been doing since, well, since they started giving birth.
Having your baby at a hospital is an idea that has only gained popularity during the twentieth century. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 90% of the world’s current population was born at home. And considering that the world is six billion strong, it seems that giving birth at home doesn’t necessarily put you at a disadvantage.
However, having a home birth isn’t for everyone. If your pregnancy has been classified as being complicated in anyway, then you may be better off giving birth at a hospital. If you are in the majority of women who are in good health and are having a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, then home birth is an option for you.
Home Births Are Gaining Popularity
In Australia, the United Kingdom and Holland it is very common for women to choose a home birth rather than a hospital birth. In North America, the increasing trend towards home birth can be see with the growing number of celebrities who have chosen to give birth at home. Cindy Crawford, Demi Moore, Lucy Lawless, Meryl Streep, Lisa Bonet, Carol King, Pamela Anderson, Jade Jagger and Kelly Preston are just a few.
One of the reasons that people have opted (or perhaps never questioned) for having a child in a hospital was because of the belief that it is safer. For a time, this was true. However, women today are healthier, receive better care throughout their pregnancies and have better living standards than in the past. All of this, along with improvements in technology, has contributed to making home births just as safe, if not safer than hospital births.
The Safety of Home Births
Even the World Health Organization has said that there is no proof that hospital births are safer than home births in the developed world. Most of the research on home births in the developed world has found that infant and maternal mortality rates are the same, if not better, than hospital rates. There is also less chance of a woman having a cesarean, induced labour, or of a midwife needing to use forceps.
A study done in Denmark in 1997 found that women who gave birth at home delivered babies in better condition with fewer problems; the women themselves experienced less stress and there were fewer medical interventions needed in home births compared with hospital births.
A More Relaxed Labor
There are many other benefits to having a home birth aside from safety issues. A home birth allows you to give birth in a place where you feel familiar and can help you to feel more relaxed throughout your labor.
Your whole family is welcome to be there with you (if you want), which many women find to be one of the best advantages to a home birth. While some hospitals are changing, most still have restrictions on who can be in the delivery room with you. Having your partner, children and other family members or friends there with you can allow you to have more support throughout your labor and generally allows your birth to be a more positive experience.
Also, giving birth at home permits you to be free from the restrictions that hospitals can place on a woman in labor. If you give birth at home, you can walk around if you feel like it or try out different positions while giving birth (that’s right, there are different positions you can give birth in). There is also no time limit placed on you so you and your birth team won’t be interrupted by the needs of other women in labor.
One complaint some women have about giving birth in a hospital is that it makes them feel like a patient who is ill, rather than a person who is experiencing a special, natural moment in their life. Often, women choose a home birth because they see it as a much more natural environment to give birth in. Women who have had children before, and were disappointed or even angry about their experience in a hospital, may also decide to have a home birth.
Midwives and Home Births
If you decide to have a home birth, you will most likely need to have a midwife since doctors will generally only do a delivery in a hospital or, at best, in a birthing centre.
Many people, especially in North America, are skeptical of midwifery. Some believe that since midwives are not doctors, they are not capable of properly and safely delivering a baby. This bias is unjustly founded. Midwives have been delivering babies for thousands of years. In fact, there was a time when doctors wouldn’t even consider delivering a child since that was “women’s work”.
Midwives are highly skilled professionals who approach childbirth with the attitude that pregnancy is a natural part of a woman’s life, not a medical issue. The World Health Organization has stated that having a midwife attend to a woman throughout her birth can reduce her labor time and result in her needing less medication.
A midwife is someone who you will get to know very well throughout your pregnancy; they will see you regularly throughout your pregnancy, be there for your delivery and continue to see you for six weeks after you give birth. Some midwives will even do pre-natal check-ups at home.
If you do visit a midwives’ clinic, you will notice that they are very family oriented, encouraging you to bring whomever you like with you to your appointment. Many women prefer having a midwife because they feel that they receive more personalized care than with a doctor. The quality of care that you receive, though, is exactly the same as with a doctor. You still have ultrasounds and can go for maternal serum tests if you want. With midwives, there is more of a focus on allowing a pregnant woman to make her own choices about her pregnancy.
Home Birth and Emergencies
One concern you may have about giving birth at home is what happens in an emergency situation. Midwives are trained to deal with certain emergencies at home. However, in the unlikely event that something serious were to arise, you would need to be rushed to the hospital. Obviously, giving birth in a hospital would have a distinct benefit in this situation, but it is not often that serious situations occur in uncomplicated pregnancies.
Preparing for Your Home Birth
If you are having a home birth, there are a few things you might want to do just before you give birth. First, stock up on food. Since you probably won’t want to run errands right after giving birth, try to have at least three days’ worth of food in your house.
Keep in mind that you will have a lot of guests in your home for the next few days. You may even want to prepare some snacks for the people who will be attending your birth. Also, make sure all the house chores are done. This will allow you and your family to spend more time enjoying the new addition to you household.
When you think you are starting labor, gather together any items your midwife may have requested for you to have on-hand. Also, arrange a plastic sheet or shower curtain on your bed and make sure there is appropriate lighting for the midwife - and don’t forget to call your midwife!
If you like the sound of a home birth but do not feel entirely comfortable with the idea of giving birth in your home, you may want to consider giving birth in a birthing center. Birthing centers were created because of women complaining more and more that they were not happy with their experiences in a hospital.
Birthing centers are places where women can give birth in a more relaxed atmosphere. Rooms are often set up like a bedroom, rather than a hospital room. The large rooms allow for women to try various positions and often have birthing pools available. Birthing centers are staffed by midwives, but they also have obstetricians on hand.
Some hospitals also offer birthing rooms. These are rooms that are designed with the laboring woman’s comfort in mind. They come equipped with different types of chairs and rails to give you the freedom to adopt different positions throughout the labor process. Some hospitals are even equipped for water births. If you prefer to give birth in a hospital, check to see if the hospital has a birthing room.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD