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Home Births on the Rise in the U.S.

Increase in Home Births Comes as Debate Over Safety Intensifies
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Home Births and C-Sections continued...

Fear of lawsuits has driven some doctors to order C-sections instead of waiting for labor to progress.

"The saying in the profession is that 'nobody is ever sued for the cesarean delivery they did too soon,'" Caughey says.

And many hospitals refuse to let women who've had one C-section deliver their next baby vaginally, even though most can do so safely, a policy that sends some women looking for other options.

At the same time, he says, it's clear that doing more cesareans hasn't improved the health of mothers or infants.

"There wasn't then a dramatic decline in birth injury. It's not like we somehow improved outcomes with that cesarean delivery," he says.

Most mothers and infants recover well after C-sections, but the procedures require a longer healing time than vaginal deliveries, up to four to six weeks, and there are additional risks of bleeding, infection, or reactions to anesthesia. 

In addition, the March of Dimes says babies born by C-section are more likely to have breathing problems than babies that are delivered vaginally. And though it's not clear why, moms who have C-sections are less likely to breastfeed.

C-sections may also cost more than vaginal births.

Midwives See Increased Interest

The majority of babies that are born at home, about 60%, are delivered by midwives, the study found.

And midwives say they've noticed an increase in demand.

"We started out our practice doing eight to 12 births per month and now we're doing twice that number," says Alice Bailes, a certified nurse midwife who has a practice in Alexandria, Va., with Marsha Jackson, who is also a certified nurse midwife.

The women who come to them, they say, are well informed, and are looking to avoid invasive births and procedures they may not want. They also may have been born at home themselves and want to continue the tradition.

"Women are having fewer babies and they do a lot of research. The Internet is available," Jackson says. "They do a lot of research to look at all the different options to be sure that the practitioner that they work with is going to help them have the type of birth that they desire."

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