While a home birth may sound "natural" and relaxed, having your baby at home is not a decision to make lightly. If things go wrong, it can lead to devastating consequences. So it's essential to do your homework -- for your health and your baby's.
Is Home Birth Right for You?
About 1 in 200 women in the U.S. gives birth at home, and that number is rising. Home birth is not for every woman due to the risks associated with it. Home birth may be an option for you if you meet these three criteria: You are in excellent health, you're expecting an uncomplicated pregnancy, and you live close to a hospital in case you need to go there.
Make sure you fit this profile before you decide on a home birth:
- You have been having a healthy pregnancy and do not have any conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV, hepatitis, or lupus.
- You have not had a C-section or preterm delivery at a previous birth.
- You are not pregnant with twins, triplets, or more.
- Your baby is not expected to be larger than 8 pounds, 8 ounces.
- You can get to a hospital in 15 minutes or less.
Once you're closer to your due date, there are a couple of other important conditions to consider before delivering your baby at home:
- Your baby should be ready to come out head first (babies generally rotate into a head-down position sometime between 32 and 36 weeks).
- You should be between weeks 36 and 41 of your pregnancy; if your labor starts before or after that window, it's best to head to a hospital.
Know the Risks of Home Birth
If you meet the above criteria and are considering a home birth, make sure you understand the risks and discuss them with your partner in advance.
- Babies delivered at home more frequently have poor skin color, pulse, and vigor right after birth. These signs could indicate a possible complication.
- Babies born at home are two to three times more likely to die shortly after birth.
- If you or your baby needs emergency medical care, you will have to get to a hospital, which will delay care.
Having your baby at home also requires extra legwork on your part. You will need to find a qualified midwife who does home deliveries, make sure your insurance covers home birth, and prepare your home for the delivery.
Your Midwife Matters
If you do decide to have a home birth, it's vital to choose a properly qualified midwife to help minimize the risks. You will want to find a midwife certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board. Only trained professionals who keep up with the latest advances in midwifery care qualify for this national certification. Your midwife's training can make a big difference in how well your delivery goes.
Ask any midwife you’re considering to deliver your baby at home:
- How long have you been practicing?
- How many home births have you performed?
- Which complications have you encountered during a home birth?
- What arrangements do you have in place in case I need emergency care?
- What methods do you suggest for managing pain?
- What is your experience and training in neonatal resuscitation?
- Do you have a good relationship with the medical staff at my local hospital? (You may also want to contact your local hospital yourself.)
- What equipment do you bring with you to home deliveries?
- Do you have a doctor to back you up in case of emergency?
- Can you provide references?
Why Women Choose Home Birth
Despite the risks, a home birth might appeal to you if you'd like to go through labor and delivery in a familiar place. Home birth allows you to invite friends and family to attend the birth without worrying about how many people are allowed in the delivery room.
Home birth might also appeal to you if you want to keep your delivery low tech with few medical interventions. Fewer women who give birth at home use painkillers or have an episiotomy or C-section than those who to go to a hospital or birthing center. Home births also result in fewer complications for the mom, including laceration, infection, or hemorrhage.
Home birth is not for everyone and not without risk. But if you choose to deliver at home, be sure to do your research and find an experienced, certified midwife.