Health

Home births safe for low-risk pregnancies

Healthy pregnant women should be able to choose where to give birth, say British researchers who compared the safety of home births with deliveries at clinics and hospitals.
Oregon couple Jennifer Margulis and husband James di Properzio with their newest daughter, Leone Francesca, after she was born at home in 2009. The overall risk is low regardless of where delivery happens, a new study finds. (Jeff Barnard/AP)

Healthy pregnant women should be able to choose where to give birth, say British researchers who compared the safety of home births with deliveries at clinics and hospitals.

The risks were higher for first-time mothers who gave birth at home, but the overall risk was low regardless of where the delivery happened, investigators said in this week’s issue of the British Medical Journal. 

'Instead of getting into a car to go to the hospital, the midwives came to me.'—Emily Shaw, British mom

For the study, researchers reviewed data for nearly 65,000 mothers and babies between 2008 and 2010 in England. Of those, the births included:

  • 19,706 in hospital obstetric wards.
  • 16,840 at home.
  • 11,282 in "freestanding" midwifery units — independent facilities where there are no doctors or access to anesthetics.
  • 16,710 in "alongside" midwifery units, often housed within hospitals.

All of the pregnancies were low risk in terms of the health of the women whose babies were carried to full term.

Among the first-time moms with planned home births, there were 9.3 adverse events per 1,000 births, such as babies born with encephalopathy, a type of brain injury, due to labour problems and stillbirth. In comparison, there were 5.3 adverse events per 1,000 births for those planning a hospital birth.

For women who had given birth before, there were no major differences.

"These results will enable women and their partners to have informed discussions with health professionals in relation to clinical outcomes and planned place of birth," Prof. Peter Brocklehurst from the University of Oxford for the Birthplace in England and his co-authors said.

If the pregnancy and labour are not complicated, a high level of specific expertise isn't needed, Brocklehurst said.

More than 90 per cent of pregnant women in England give birth in a hospital, with midwives delivering more than 60 per cent of babies.

Canadian study backs home birth safety

Emily Shaw of Oxfordshire, northwest of London, had her second son at home in April after her first baby was induced in October 2008.

Shaw said she felt much more comfortable delivering at home, where she has her own kitchen and bathroom.

"Instead of getting into a car to go to the hospital, the midwives came to me."

In 2009, a Canadian study also concluded that giving birth at home with a registered midwife can be as safe as a hospital birth for the infant and mother.

The rate of deaths was about two per 1,000 for planned home births involving midwives as well as deliveries in hospitals involving either midwives or doctors.

With files from The Associated Press

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