Home birth has been proven to be as safe or safer than hospital births for normal pregnancies. A study done by the CDC shows there has been a steady rise in home births and birthing center births.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists (ACOG) has maintained that they absolutely do not support home birth, classes on home birth, or anyone who provides midwife care during one. They think encouragement of them is irresponsible and wrong, and they are part of the reason there have been recommendations for or even successful enactments of laws to ban home birth in some places.
In addition to the country's excessively high c-section rate and our ranking as #1 in intervention in the world (which is GREAT in life-or-death cases but really bad in non-emergency births), and the anti-vaginal birth after cesarean laws in some states, it's no wonder that women are choosing home birth.
When you strip away a woman's right to choose what's best for her body, force her into dangerous and scary situations, force her to have no hospital option but a repeat cesarean (despite the fact that vaginal births after cesaerens are much safer), you force her to escape the system and realize that she has to go against "conventional wisdom" and even accepted social standards to do what is healthiest and safest, or even just the most desired and most comfortable choice for her. (Sound like another polarizing issue?)
Unfortunately, all of these things have some very serious repercussions on home birthing women as well.
They are likely to be treated badly by hospital staff, despite the fact they obviously did what is recommended -- come in if/when there's a problem, concern, or complication. In fact, every recommendation for home births makes sure that it's clear for the midwife and patient to acknowledge certain situations in which a transfer to the hospital is necessary -- and I've never known a woman to argue it -- but it can make it difficult to make that decision for fear of the actions of the hospital upon arrival.
Women avoid use of a midwife or doula in areas, from lack of insurance coverage (despite home birth's major financial benefits to insurance companies) or even due to feeling the need to hide the birth from family and friends -- in some cases, CPS has been called on women JUST for birthing at home. No wonder they're keeping it secret!
Home birth advocates often use other countries with high home birth rates as examples, but it's argued that those countries also have very different systems in preparation for birth, as well as much more education and support for home birthing mothers as well. Just like with breastfeeding, when it stops becoming the norm, myths and rumors begin to override fact and the number of people who are able to properly teach and assist becomes much more limited.
Eugene Decleq, of the Boston University of Public Health, who was the author of the study for the CDC that showed the increase, states that the lack of such a setup keeps safer home births from being a bigger option in the United States.
I think if you actually move to a system like that, it would be fine in the United States, because the evidence from other countries suggests that it is as well.
Looking at the numbers, adopting such a system probably wouldn't lead to widespread home births in the United States. It would not climb to 30 percent like the Netherlands, but would be closer to the rise to 3 percent seen in the United Kingdom
Seeing as we're not going to see any rise in professional and insurance company support of home births and an overhaul of our midwife training anytime soon, what else can be done?
Stop scaring women away from the hospital, for one. One of the driving forces for some women who choose home birth often isn't the desire to birth at home. As often as not, it's the desire to escape the hospital. Rightfully so, when our country is rising above a 1 in 3 c-section ratio, over twice the recommended maximum percentage. All it takes is a tiny bit of research and reading of birth stories as well to see how women are bullied and forced into unnecessary interventions in some hospitals to understand why someone might refuse to birth in a hospital setting.
If the OCOG and CDC want to discourage the choice of home births at a time when many are looking into the option more, they should provide a more home-like atmosphere at the hospital.
Rather than using monitors that strap a woman to a bed unnecessarily, forcing her to be unable to deal with her pain and internalize it, they need to make it standard procedure to allow and encourage women to walk around (not just in early labor, either), take baths or hot showers (both of which are okay even after your water is broken), sit on birthing balls, and deal with her pain in ways other than gritting her teeth and bearing it or accepting the often horribly pushed medications.
If hospitals employed doulas and kicked out doctors until they were actually needed, that move alone could (and does) significantly reduce the amount of complications and c-sections.
No one should discourage home birth by attacking the women who choose it and make them seem like baby-endangering freaks. Instead we all need to acknowledge that many of our hospitals are currently broken and terrible places for giving birth, and work to change that instead.
If our hospitals could function more like birthing centers and really work to help mom be in beneficial positions to push on her own (instead of on her back being told when to push) and encouraged to deal with pain in healthy ways, we'd get more women back into hospitals in the first place. We'd also save a lot of babies and mothers who die or are mentally or physically damaged for life in hospitals from complications from unnecessary interventions and cesareans as well.
What are your thoughts on home birth?
Image via Odd_dog/Flickr