Having an At Home Birth?: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

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A pregnant woman planning an at home birth.
Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Monday March 4, 2024

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Recently there’s been a resurgence of interest in home births as an alternative to hospital deliveries. An at home birth, where a woman gives birth in the comfort of her own home with the assistance of a trained midwife or a qualified health care professional, offers a unique and intimate experience for expectant mothers. 

The Benefits: Why Do Some People Opt For an At Home Birth?

The decision to have a home birth is deeply personal, influenced by several factors reflecting an individual’s values, beliefs and preferences. While hospital births are a standard choice for many, a growing number of expectant parents are opting for the intimate and personal experience of giving birth at home. 

In the United States, less than 1% of births occur at home, and 25% of these births are unplanned or unattended by a medical professional. Unplanned home births are associated with higher risks for the mother and baby compared to planned births. Here are some reasons why you may be considering a home birth:

It’s Comfortable

Home births provide a unique opportunity for mothers to labor and deliver in the comfort of their own space. The familiar surroundings can contribute to feelings of security and relaxation, which can positively impact the birthing experience 

It’s Empowering

Choosing a home birth often reflects a desire for increased control and autonomy over the birthing process. Some women feel empowered by actively participating in decision-making, choosing their birthing positions and creating a birthing environment that aligns with their values. 

It’s Personalized

A midwife is typically present at an at home birth, offering personalized and continuous care throughout the process. Building a trusting relationship with a midwife creates a connection, individualized support and attention that may be challenging to achieve in a hospital setting.

There’s a Reduced Need for Medical Interventions

For those seeking a more natural and unmedicated birthing experience, home births can be an attractive option. There’s more emphasis on minimal medical interventions. This approach aligns with the belief that childbirth is a natural process, and the body is well-equipped to handle it without unnecessary interventions. 

Due to the nature of studies regarding home births vs. hospital births, women are very reluctant to participate, so there’s limited data on the subject. However, a 2015 study in Oregon — the state with the highest number of at home births — found that medical interventions were less common at home than in a hospital. 

There’s More Freedom

Home births allow for greater freedom during labor, giving mothers the flexibility to adopt positions that are most comfortable for them. The ability to choose water births, use birthing balls or move around freely can enhance the birth experience and contribute to overall satisfaction. 

Family Can Be Involved

Home births often encourage family members to actively participate, including partners and children. Including family members can create a supportive and emotionally rich environment, creating a sense of unity and shared joy. 

There’s a Reduced Risk of Infections

Hospitals can be environments where the risk of infections is higher. Giving birth at home may reduce exposure to potential pathogens, providing a more controlled and hygienic environment.

It Involves Cultural and Spiritual Beliefs

Cultural or spiritual beliefs may play a significant role in the decision to give birth at home. Some women find that the home setting allows for the incorporation of cultural rituals, ceremonies or spiritual practices that hold deep meaning for the birthing family. 

Lower Stress Levels

Being in a familiar and comfortable setting can contribute to lower stress levels during labor. The absence of the hustle and bustle of a hospital environment can create a more calming atmosphere, promoting a positive and memorable birthing experience. 

A Shorter Recovery Time

The recovery period is typically six to eight weeks, but some women find the transition from birth to postpartum recovery is smoother at home. Additionally, being in a familiar and supportive environment can contribute to a quicker recovery and a more positive postpartum experience. 

What Are the Risks?

While home births can be a safe and satisfying option for low-risk pregnancies, it’s important to acknowledge the potential risks associated with delivering at home. You should make this decision after careful consideration and consultation with qualified health care professionals. Some of the potential risks include:

Unforeseen Complications

One of the main concerns with home births is the potential for unforeseen complications that may require urgent medical attention. While the majority of pregnancies progress smoothly — with many women only experiencing mild acid reflux — complications such as fetal distress, umbilical cord issues or maternal bleeding can arise suddenly and necessitate immediate intervention. Complications occur in approximately 8% of pregnancies and can be harmful if they’re left untreated. 

Emergency Situations

In the event of a medical emergency, like a sudden change in the mother’s or baby’s condition, there may be a delay in accessing emergency medical care. A quick emergency response is critical for ensuring the well-being of the mother and the baby. 

Postpartum Hemorrhage

Postpartum hemorrhage — excessive bleeding after childbirth — is a potential risk during any birth. While midwives are trained to manage this, the immediate availability of medical resources in a hospital setting can be crucial in severe cases. This condition is very rare but without medical intervention can be life-threatening. 

Neonatal Resuscitation 

Some babies require resuscitation immediately after birth due to various reasons, including breathing difficulties. While midwives are equipped to handle these situations, it’s beneficial to have specialized equipment and expertise available.

Transportation Delays

In an emergency, the time it takes to transport the mother to a hospital could be a critical factor. Factors like distance to the hospital, weather conditions or traffic may impact how quickly one can access medical care.

Limited Access to Pain Relief

Lastly, home births may limit access to certain pain relief options available in hospitals, such as epidurals. While there are natural pain relief options, some may find labor challenging without additional pain management.

Things to Consider

While the idea of a home birth offers several benefits, it’s vital to weigh the potential risks and make informed decisions aligning with your preferences and circumstances.

  • Risk assessment: While home births can be a safe option for low-risk pregnancies, it’s crucial to assess and manage potential risks. A qualified health care provider should conduct through prenatal screenings to ensure the mother and baby are suitable candidates for a home birth. 
  • Emergency preparedness: Adequate planning for emergencies is essential in home births. A skilled midwife is prepared to handle complications. Additionally, they can make the decision to transfer the mother to a hospital if necessary.
  • Postpartum support: Comprehensive postpartum care is essential. This care includes monitoring the health of the mother and baby, providing breastfeeding support and addressing any potential complications. 

Is It the Right Choice?

Home births offer an alternative approach to childbirth prioritizing the natural process and emotional well-being of the mother. However, multiple risks and considerations mean this option may not be suitable for every woman or every situation. It’s essential to communicate openly with health care providers to ensure a safe and satisfying home birth experience.

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