Home Births May Be Safe for 'Low-Risk' Pregnancies
But critic dismisses the Canadian findings as incomplete, not applicable to the U.S.
By Randy Dotinga
MONDAY, Dec. 21, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Some babies born at home seem to fare as well as similar babies born in a hospital, a new Canadian study finds.
However, the researchers only looked at pregnancies considered to be low risk, and emergency services did have to respond to about 8 percent of the home births, the study found.
A leading critic of home births dismissed the findings, and said that midwives are more integrated into the health system in Canada than in the United States.
But study author Eileen Hutton, director of the Midwifery Education Program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said the results should be comforting to pregnant women considering whether to give birth at home.
"I'd feel very reassured that the outcomes for home birth are good," she said. But she added that women giving birth at home must take special precautions in case of an emergency.
"As long as there's coordination between home and hospital, you could say home birth appears to be as safe as giving birth at the hospital," Hutton said.
There is a small, but growing, trend toward birth at home in the United States. As of 2009, less than 1 percent of births occurred at home, but that number -- 0.72 percent -- had grown by almost 30 percent over the previous five years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Home births were once virtually universal. The wide majority of births occurred at home in 1900, but hospitals accounted for 56 percent of births by 1940 and 99 percent of births by 1969, the CDC says.
There's continuing debate over whether home births are as safe as hospital births. Home births typically rely on midwives, not physicians, although doctors may be on call if needed. Homes also lack the sophisticated medical equipment of hospitals, although ambulances can often provide almost instant access to emergency care.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says hospitals and birthing centers are the safest places for births, and it cautions that babies face a higher risk of death -- although still low overall -- when born at home.