Alternative Birthing: Home Births

With the many unknowns that can occur during childbirth, many women feel comforted by having a birth plan that expresses her desired wishes for labor, delivery and postpartum care.  For some new moms, this includes the familiarity of her own home environment as a place to welcome a new baby.  Home births are an alternative birthing option that some families choose instead of hospitals or birthing centers.  While home births offer more flexibility and control over birthing, there are some risks involved as well.

The Pros of Home Births

For moms-to-be who envision giving birth in the serenity and comfort of familiar surroundings, home births are a viable alternative birthing choice.  Usually home births are left for women with no pregnancy complications, signs of distress to the baby and who have not had issues with previous childbirths.  They are only recommended for women delivering single babies and that go into labor between 37 and 41 weeks.

Births__1457446489_162.206.228.38Home births are most often facilitated by a midwife with an obstetrician on standby should unforeseen complications arise.  Unlike hospital births, home births are less inhibited.  Laboring women can wear their own clothes, eat as they please and are free to move about their homes as they wish.  For some, this freedom allows for a calmer labor process.  At home, anyone is allowed to be present at the birth rather than just one or two people permitted in a hospital delivery room.  Also, many women who wish to give birth naturally without drug interventions prefer home births so medical professionals do not pressure them into making choices against their birth plans.  Home births offer mothers more one-on-one attention and support since doctors and nurses are not juggling other patients.  And, home births cost significantly less than hospital births.

The Cons of Home Births

Although home birthed infant deaths are relatively low, death rates among babies that are birthed at home are double or triple that of hospital births.  The biggest downside of home births is unforeseen complications.  If an issue arises during labor or delivery, mothers have to wait for emergency professionals to transfer her to the hospital.  As with any birth, potential complications exist, however some added complications may be introduced by the nature of not being in a sterile hospital room or birthing center.  The same medical equipment is not readily available at the disposal of the midwife, making some aspects of labor, delivery and postpartum care more difficult.  A home birth must be scraped if there is placental abruption, umbilical cord prolapse, unusual bleeding or if labor is not progressing. Also, if the baby shows signs of distress, has excreted meconium prior to delivery or if the placenta cannot be delivered intact, a transfer to the hospital is necessary.

While less encumbered, home births cannot be as strictly monitored as hospital births.  Due to the nature of the space, the mother’s and baby’s heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and other vital signs cannot be monitored consistently.  Rather, they are checked periodically, which reduces the opportunity for early intervention if necessary.

Home births were a much more common practice in the U.S. in the early 1900s.  Around the middle of the century, hospital births increased and now it is the standard.  However, home births are still very commonplace in other countries.  Some cultures and religions value the benefits of home births.

Preparing for home births can help ensure a safer experience for mothers and babies.  This includes knowing the risk factors and having a solid plan in place.  A midwife should be selected early and mothers should meet with this professional several times to discuss her birthing plan and emergency back-up plan.  Also, having a pediatrician lined up to see the baby soon after birth and postpartum help for the mother as she recovers are both crucial to successful home births.