The medical community considers home birth dangerous, the equivalent of playing with fire. Until now, research didn’t support that position: outcomes for healthy moms with uncomplicated pregnancies were consistently on par whether babes were born at home or in the hospital.
Meet the Wax Paper. A metaanalysis of data on home births published last month the Journal of American Obstetrics and Gynecology, this paper claims that infants born at home are 3 times more likely to die than those born in hospitals.
No, say home birth activists and many academics. They say the paper’s methodology was flawed and the results are based on bad data.
It’s easy to see the appeal of home birth: the idyllic vision of a quiet labor in your own bed, attended by your loved ones and a supportive midwife, is a lot more soothing than the iconic scene of noise, lights and chaos Hollywood has conjured for hospital births.
But hospital birth remains the norm, in part because of these safety fears. Fewer than 1% of babies in the U.S. are born at home.
In Britain, where home birth is much more common, the countries major medical journals are divided on the Wax Paper. The Lancet swallowed it whole, and issued a stern warning to pregnant women about the risks of home birth. The British Medical Journal, on the other hand, blew it off, suggesting that:
“wise epidemiologists (not to mention midwives, obstetricians, and expectant mothers) will pass discreetly by.”
Given that many women will choose to have their babies at home, attended by skilled midwives, the proper question would seem to be not, “Is this more dangerous than hospital birth?” but rather, “What can be done to make home birth safe and healthy for everyone involved?”
The fact remains that for most healthy moms with uncomplicated pregnancies, a birth at home is just as safe as a hospital birth. The only substantial difference in outcomes is that home births have lower rates of unwanted interventions.
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