Study: Home Birth Just as Safe for Low-Risk Pregnancies as Hospital Birth

Considering giving birth at home? Read this first.

pregnant woman sitting on bed
Photo: FOAP

A large new study out of Canada finds that, for low-risk pregnancies, home births do not increase the risks of complications.

For the study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers compared 11,493 births in homes and an equal number of hospital births among both first-time moms and those who had given birth before. Then, over the next three years, they looked at the risks for stillbirth, neonatal death, and serious complications.

Just 8 percent of participants who had a planned home birth, attended by a midwife, needed emergency medical intervention, while 75 percent had no problems. Meanwhile, 97 percent of women who planned to deliver their babies at the hospital did so; 1.7 percent needed emergency care. For moms who delivered out of a hospital setting, the incidence of stillbirth or neonatal death was 1.15 per every 1,000 births. For hospital birthers, it was slightly lower: 0.94 per 1,000 births.

Explains study author Dr. Eileen Hutton, "Among women who intended to birth at home with midwives in Ontario, the risk of stillbirth, neonatal death, or serious neonatal morbidity was low and did not differ from midwifery clients who chose hospital birth."

Researchers also found women who gave birth in hospitals were more likely to have interventions such as C-sections. "Compared with women who planned to birth in hospital, women who planned to birth at home underwent fewer obstetrical interventions, were more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth, and were more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding at 3 and 10 days after delivery," the study authors said.

It's important to point out the standards for home births are different in Canada versus the United States. For instance, midwife qualifications vary from state to state. So this study isn't necessarily an indication that women with low-risk pregnancies here should consider forgoing a hospital delivery. In fact, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, planned home birth carries a two to threefold increased risk of neonatal death versus hospital births.

ACOG maintains a hospital is the safest place to give birth. But it says it respects a woman's right to experience birth as she pleases, and urges anyone considering a home birth to plan ahead of time so that a qualified midwife is present, and access to emergency care is quick and efficient.

Would you consider a home birth?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.

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