Are Home Births Safe?

Prenatal Care and Childbirth

By Giles Manley, MD, JD
CPFN Medical Advisor

I was surprised to read recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that home births are growing in popularity. I would have thought the opposite, given that most hospitals go to great lengths to provide comfortable and nurturing environments for laboring mothers and are the best equipped to deal with emergencies. Also, most insurance companies will not cover a home delivery.

According to the people who examine such trends, the primary reason seems to be women – mostly the older, more affluent, and those who already have had children – are looking for a more “intimate experience.” They may also have concerns that hospital-based births tend to be accompanied by more interventions, such as C-sections.

As a board-certified practicing obstetrician for more than 20 years, I can only speak to what I know. In my opinion, I would not recommend home births.

Yes, 90-95% of home births are going to be fine, assuming the mother is healthy with no known health risks, has experienced uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery before, and that a certified midwife is in attendance. But why would a mother take even a five percent chance that, should something go wrong, she wouldn’t be where she and her baby could get the best care? When a baby inside the womb gets into trouble, even minutes can make a critical difference. The same holds true for women with bleeding complications. Will the baby experience permanent brain injury, or will mom bleed out, while being transported to a nearby hospital?

Recommendations for a Safer Home Birth

Still, sometimes I still get asked about home births and what I would recommend to make them as safe as possible. Here’s what I say:

  • First, consult with an obstetrician and be checked for any pregnancy health risks, such as smoking, diabetes, heart disease, RH factor, previous C-section, or if you are over 35 and this is your first child.
  • Make sure your midwife is certified.
  • Make sure your midwife has a back-up physician at the nearest hospital.
  • Know exactly which ambulance company serves the hospital nearest you.
  • Make sure the midwife has resuscitation equipment, such as an AMBU bag, along with oxygen, in case it’s needed.
  • A better option than a home delivery would be a birthing center. These are usually affiliated with a hospital and have on-site ambulance service.

A number of inquiries involving botched home births have come across my desk as a birth injury attorney. Unfortunately, since the midwives involved in these home births did not carry malpractice insurance, we had no way of helping these families recover any money to help care for their injured children. It’s just one more consideration when thinking about a home birth. Although the chance of something going wrong with an otherwise healthy patient and pregnancy is slim, an unforeseen complication could prove disastrous. Why take the chance?

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