There's been a bit of a stink in the press this week over the government's birth choice plan for 2009. The idea, welcomed in principle by many health professionals, is to give every mum-to-be the option giving birth in a birthing centre, hospital or at home. But with maternity unit closures and midwife shortages also in the headlines, a question mark hangs over whether the plan is financially feasible. All this talk about birthing options though, will leave many more women wondering what they may be missing out on: currently only one in five women is even given the option of a home birth and just 2% of babies are born at home. So is home birth an option worth considering and how do you go about securing one if you decide it's right for you?
If you haven't thought of a home birth before your first reaction might be to recoil in horror at the thought of facing labour without doctors, drugs and all the trappings to deal with a medical emergency. Other women may choose a home birth for exactly that reason, hoping to de-medicalise their birthing experience as much as possible.
For these women, a home birth presents a greater chance of labouring naturally at a time when 17% of babies in the UK are born by c-section. If you opt for a home birth then you're opting to forgo most forms of medicinal pain relief (although your midwife may have gas and air) in favour of natural pain relief. Once medical intervention of any kind is used in the course of labour, the chances of labour ending with a c-section rise and so the lower rates of earlier medical intervention in home births means a correspondingly lower chance of ending up with a c-section.
Home births give you far more control over your surroundings, birthing props and level of privacy and can ultimately allow you a greater degree of control over your own labour, all of which may boost your confidence and ease your birth experience. Your family's day-to-day life will probably be less disturbed by a home labour, and following the birth you can immediately settle down with your baby and recuperate in the comfort of your own home.
If all of this sounds good to you, then a home birth may be worth considering and we've detailed the pros and cons of home birthing more deeply here. But before setting your heart on a home birth it's important to bear in mind that there's no guarantee it will give you the birth experience you are hoping for, or even that a labour that starts off at home will end with a home birth. While you do have a higher chance of, say, a water birth if you have your own birthing pool at home, there may be complications in labour that preclude using a birthing pool or other labour prop you have prepared. There's also the chance that complications may render a home birth too risky and necessitate a hasty transfer to hospital.
Arguably more important than where you give birth is the quality of care that you receive, and whether you have trust in those responsible for the safety of you and your baby. Just as women have varied experiences of staff in maternity units and labour wards, experiences with midwives at home births aren't universally wonderful. If you are going for a home birth then it's important that you have a choice of midwife/midwives and that you feel comfortable with entrusting her with your care.
If you're interested in a home birth but aren't presented with the option at the outset, then talk to your doctor or midwife about the provision of home births in your area. There may be a circumstance in your pregnancy or medical history that renders a home birth too risky, in which case your doctor will advise you.
If, however, you have the sense that your doctor or midwife is
putting you off the idea without giving a reason particular to your own pregnancy then don't be afraid to politely press the issue.
You can read more on the pros and cons of home birthing in this article.