The reasons that families choose to give birth to their babies at home are wide ranging. For some it’s about avoiding unnecessary intervention or guaranteeing the availability of a birth pool and for others it’s about being in their own environment surrounded by the things and people they love. Having midwives who once at your home are solely focused on you and will not need to care for other women as they would in other settings can be an attractive prospect too. Arguably one of the most important reasons is because home is where the birthing woman believes she will feel safest and most relaxed. When a woman labours in an oxytocin friendly environment, birth is better able to follow its normal physiological path. Research has shown that for the majority of women home birth is as safe as hospital and in some cases safer as it decreases the likelihood of unnecessary interventions. A recent study also showed a reduced risk of postpartum haemorrhage for those planning a home birth.
A large study in 2011 concluded that giving birth in the UK is very safe regardless of where you plan to have your baby. For second and subsequent babies a planned home birth is as safe as birthing in a midwife led unit (also known as a ‘birth centre’) or a consultant led unit in a hospital. For first time mums planning a home birth the risks are slightly increased but still very small – increasing from around 0.5% to just under 1%. Significantly more first time mums will transfer in to hospital from a midwife led unit or home but this will include transferring at maternal request ie for pain relief options not available at home and is not always due to complications. Around 10% of women having a second or subsequent baby will transfer in. Women transferring in to hospital from home are still more likely to achieve a ‘normal birth’ once there.
When considering where you would like to give birth, you should feel able to trust your care providers and feel confident and comfortable discussing your individual needs with them. There are some genuine reasons for recommending a hospital birth but your choice of a homebirth should not be affected by reluctance on the part of your midwife, doctor or the local maternity services management. GPs may decline but midwives when called, must attend a labouring woman, where ever she decides to give birth, regardless of advice to the contrary.
A recent case brought to the European Court of Human Rights saw a ruling passed down that under ‘the right to private life and the right to non-discrimination’ women have the right to choose the circumstances in which they give birth and under the European Convetion on Human Rights, the state has an obligation to facilitate that choice.
It’s important to remember that what ever your reasons and what ever your particular circumstances, you have the right to make decisions about your body and it is ultimately your decision to make.
Further useful links.
Birthrights.org.uk – advice and support on UK women’s rights in pregnancy and childbirth