Home Birth: Is It For You?

| Pregnancy & Parenting

Childbirth is nothing new; home births aren’t a novel practice, either. In fact, giving birth at home was the norm for centuries. Yet, it seems like such a foreign, maybe even barbaric, practice. Just reading this article’s headline, you’re probably like, “Ha! That’s hilarious. No.” Yet, there are tens of thousands of women who choose a home birth each year and are extremely satisfied with it.

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The popularity of home births grew 41 percent between 2004 and 2010. Of those births, the pregnancies were considered low-risk. Low-risk pregnancies are those with one baby for a mother in good health. High-risk pregnancies develop due to conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, or thyroid disease, preeclampsia, obesity and more. A midwife or obstetrician can help you understand your health concerns.

To many women, avoiding medical interventions during labor and delivery is extremely important to them. This includes induction, use of a vacuum or forceps, Cesarean and an epidural. If you’re laboring at home, you don’t have access to an epidural and you’re definitely not having a C-section.

“I knew if I came to the hospital, I know I’ll say I want an epidural,” says Carmen Kosicek, RN, MSN and midwife. Carmen is a mother two, and after having a hospital birth with her first, she wanted to experience the home birth with her second. Carmen has also attended about 15 home births as the appointed midwife. 

“My husband thought I was nuts,” she says, “but afterward, he said, ‘If we have another baby, it will be a home birth, hands down.’”

Choosing a Home Birth

Most first-time moms join online forums, conduct relentless Google searches, flood their minds with facts and horror stories, then try to make sense of it all in the context of what’s right for them. Most of the time, women end up fearful of “what ifs” and the expected pain. Hospitals seem like the most logical place to be during a vulnerable time like labor and delivery.

>> Read more: Childbirth 101: Making the Best Choices for Your Childbirth

Anastasia Pennington, mother of two, gave birth to her first child in a hospital and said it was wonderful. With her second child, she was in a new place and explored new options, like a home birth. Anastasia and her husband pursued it together, and she describes her experience:

“Not only would I have a voice in what kind of birth I wanted, but I also would be in the comfort of my own home where I could wear what I wanted, have the freedom to move around and position myself in anyway I felt my body needed to, even eat and drink when I what I wanted. By having the new baby at home, we didn’t have to leave our first daughter overnight. She was a part of the birth. Her sister was born at 8:30 p.m. and after getting cleaned up and spending some time getting to know our little one, we all crawled into bed together. It was seamless. I didn’t feel like I had to choose between the girls. I could be there for both of them from the start.” 

The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health published the results of a six-year home-birth study of nearly 17,000 mothers. Of those moms, less than 11 percent were transferred to the hospital mainly for “failure to progress.” Only 4.5 percent actually wanted an epidural. That’s one answer to the big question about pain.

Other reasons moms transferred to the hospital include exhaustion, fetal distress and cord prolapse. The latter two have less than a 1-percent chance of happening. But it’s important to have a backing physician who you’ve been in contact with during your pregnancy in case you do transfer.

“My primary care provider was a certified professional midwife (CPM) for both births,” says Erin Level, mother of two, “Even though I used two different midwifes, I also received parallel care from an OB-GYN and I used chiropractic care to help me prepare for my second home birth.”

>> Read more: How to Find the Right OB-GYN for You

(Photo: Erin Level
Photo of Erin Level and Family, by Jessica K Photography)

Cost, Stats and Studies

Looking at a 2000 study from the British Medical Journal, there were 5,418 women who planned a home birth. Of those women, approximately 12 percent were transferred to the hospital. There, 4.7 percent received an epidural and 3.7 percent had a C-section. This is still drastically lower than the C-section rate of mothers who begin the labor and delivery process in a hospital. That number is now more than 30 percent.

In 2013, there were a more than 3.9 million births. Of those births, a little more than 50,000 were at home. The average vaginal birth in a hospital costs between $3,000-$4,500. In addition to the birth itself, there is neonatal care, recovery, testing, anesthesia, “room and board,” prescriptions and other miscellaneous items that can add up to more than $10,000. A home birth might cost between $2,000-$3,000. Choosing a home birth to save money, yes, that’s definitely a reason. It’s approximately 60 percent less than what a hospital will charge. For mothers who do not have traditional insurance, this is a game-changer.

Choosing a home birth, though, is based on more than finances for the moms who choose it. They’re looking for freedom, comfort and control during a time when their bodies take the wheel.

Why and How To Choose a Midwife

The role of the midwife is to be there – the entire time. Carmen explains that a midwife will ask the mother how she feels and what she wants rather than constantly check her. The midwife will encourage her to eat and drink if she needs it. The midwife will help you get into any position you want, turn on music, guide breathing and stay with you. A midwife can provide and prescribe basic pain killers, deliver the baby, do stitching, but cannot perform a C-section, give an epidural, or do more than basic life support for both mother and baby.

>> Read more: Do You Need a Doula?

“In the United States we have a long way to go before home birth is considered a normal low-risk birth option like it is in many other parts of the world,” says Erin. “I do think that people can view home birth as extreme because there is no access to pain relief and natural birth in general is not the norm.”

If you’re looking for a midwife, rather for a home birth or for support in the hospital, the easiest way to find one is to call the hospital you choose for delivery. Ask for the Labor and Delivery Department and ask if they have available midwives. If they say yes, then ask for the midwife’s backing physician. At that point you can find the physician’s office and establish prenatal care.

Look for home-birth support groups in person and online, natural birthing classes, connect with a midwife, watch documentaries, talk to your doctor, get support from your partner and crunch the numbers. A home birth has proven to be a beautiful and safe option for both mother and baby. So, would you choose it?