“But isn’t Home Birth Unsafe and Totally Insane?”

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When my wife and I first contemplated a home birth, many folks we knew asked, “but, isn’t home birth unsafe and totally insane?”

I don’t think it is. If we look historically, home birth has been practiced in 99.9% of births since humans began walking upright. Jimmy Carter was actually the first US president not to be born at home.
What about safety?

In the UK, the very reputable National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence reports that mortality during home births is the same as it is for hospital births. And Holland reports that a home birth led by a midwife “does not increase the risks of mortality among low-risk women.” The Dutch know what they are talking about: in Holland, 30% of births occur at home.

The same report goes on to state that there is equality between home birth and hospital birth “provided the maternity care system facilitates this choice through the availability of well-trained midwives and through a good transportation and referral system.” Translation: home birth is great, as long as midwives are skilled and it’s easy to get into the hospital when needed.

Maybe that’s where the United States falls short. How can we have “well-trained midwives and a good transportation and referral system” to support home birth when the official stance of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is that “planned home birth is associated with a twofold to threefold increased risk of neonatal death when compared with planned hospital birth”?

I’m no conspiracy theorist, but in a capitalistically driven healthcare system, how can doctors and hospitals possibly support home birth? Profits are made in the hospital, not in homes. Interestingly, the acronym for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is A-COG. I’m just saying.

By the way, whereas the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is A-COG, the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is, appropriately, NICE. To which I concur. The fine chaps at NICE report that women who give birth at home are:

1. More likely to deliver vaginally.
2. More likely to have greater satisfaction from their birth experience than women who gave birth in a hospital.
3. More likely to avoid hospital interventions such as analgesia and a delivery using instruments.

Other countries certainly have a thing or two to teach us in this arena. In Australia, health insurance covers home birth. In Canada, the Minister of Health actually recommends home births. And the UK’s parliamentary undersecretary for health, Lord Hunt himself, has sired two babies born at home.

The very founder of obstetrics in the United States, Joseph DeLee, the man who considered birth a medical crisis to be carried out only in hospital, recanted by the end of his life, warning mothers, “Mother Nature’s methods of bringing babies are still the best.”



Brian Leaf

About Brian Leaf

Brian Leaf is author of the forthcoming parenting memoir, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting. You can find him online at www.misadventures-of-a-yogi.com.

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