I’ve always been on the fence about the idea of home birth.
On one hand, after working for years as a labor and delivery nurse, I saw firsthand how many births were made complicated by unnecessary interventions of the modern obstetrical system. First-time mothers were induced for no reason other than a doctor’s schedule (oh, but don’t worry, on paper there was always a “medical” reason), strapped into bed with constant monitoring, denied food or drink in case of an emergency C-section, and then when their bodies tired out mentally and physically from artificial contractions that didn’t produce results, they were whisked away to surgery.
Exhausted after their ordeal, they would nod when family members filed into their rooms shaking their heads. Thank goodness, they would proclaim. Can you imagine what would have happened without that C-section?
Well, yeah, actually I can. That mom probably would have done just fine had we left her to go into labor on her own, and not messed with Mother Nature.
Not all women are so lucky, of course, which is the “other hand” of this scenario, and the reason I’ve been wary of home birth. I have seen real, first-class emergencies that would have happened no matter what, and in the majority of those emergencies, seconds can mean the difference between life and death. So, having trained professionals ready to swoop in and save you and your baby has always seemed to be worth the sometimes inconvenient interventional cascade that hospital birth can bring. It’s always seemed like a good deal in my mind.
But for the first time, one governing women’s health agency has made the startling proclamation that not only is home birth safe for women, but that it is actually the preferred choice for low-risk mothers.
The National Institute for Care and Excellence, which develops health guidelines for the United Kingdom, recently released an updated version of their childbirth guidelines, the first revision since 2007. And the key takeaway for birth providers is this:
“Advise low‑risk multiparous women that planning to give birth at home or in a midwifery‑led unit (freestanding or alongside) is particularly suitable for them because the rate of interventions is lower and the outcome for the baby is no different compared with an obstetric unit.”
In other words, home birth is better for both mom and baby in low-risk, second-time or more pregnancies. (Multiparous means women who have already had a baby.) For first-time moms, the NICE recommends that they give birth in a midwifery‑led unit (freestanding or alongside) instead of at home or at a hospital.
For the first time, based on clinical evidence, a governing healthcare agency is proclaiming that basically anything but a hospital birth is better and safer for mothers and their babies (and to be frank, it’s more cost-effective as well). No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Why waste time having a woman deliver with a specially-trained surgeon when she could go with an equally capable, cheaper provider? (For example, most births in the UK are attended by midwives, a la Kate Middleton.)
Of course, these guidelines are from the UK and not in the US of A, where we seem to want to ignore all the evidence that points to the flaws in our current child-birthing system. But even some physicians are admitting the truth, like the OB/GYN who confessed that hospital births aren’t right for most women, or this doc who proclaims that midwives rock.
I know with certainty that if I ever have another baby, I will take a few lessons from the ladies who have made the informed choice to have a home birth like Babble’s own Monica Bielanko, who gave birth to her third child in her living room, or Lauren Hartmann who birthed a whopping 10-pound, 8-ounce baby boy at home. There is so much empowerment in being able to make that kind of decision that these women did based on scientific evidence, instead of fear, shame, or the status quo.
So, can home birth actually be a better choice for some women?
Does that mean it’s right for all women?
Of course not.
But it’s high time we stop fear from letting us acknowledge the truth about home birth from a scientific, medical perspective and allow low-risk women the option of delivering their babies safely at home.