I am aware that home birth isn’t for everybody – some people truly are better off giving birth in hospital if they or their babies have significant health problems. However, there are many ‘reasons’ people are given as to why they shouldn’t have a home birth. Many of these perceived risks are very low, and are no reason not to have a home birth. Ladies, do your research before letting that doctor make your mind up for you!
I thought it would be cool to compile a list of amazing reasons to choose home birth. So, here is my top-10 rundown in no particular order. Please do comment and share your own! I’d love to read them!
Reason #1 – Home Comforts
So, you’ve just given birth to a beautiful baby. You’re tired, and thirsty. Where else other than home can you have a hot cup of tea in your favourite mug, made just the way you like it? Once you’ve glugged that sweet nectar down, it’s time for a shower. Right there waiting for you are all of your toiletries, clean clothes, towels, washcloths, everything. You don’t have to think about digging them out of a bag, and putting the wet washcloths and towels in a plastic bag to transport home. You dont even have to bother tidying up after your shower if you don’t want to – you can do it later, or get your partner to do it. And then comes the best bit – curling up in your own bed, with your partner and beautiful new baby. Trust me, nothing can beat that.
Reason #2 – Distraction
My home birth was very fast, so there was no time for distraction. My labour was intense from the get-go, so it needed all of my focus. However, labour is sometimes a long hard slog and being at home helps distract you from that. You can watch TV, DVD’s, listen to music as loud as you like, take a bath or shower, cook a meal for you and your birth team if you wish… the list goes on. In hospital, you are forced to remember at all times that you are a patient, and that you are in labour. In many other cultures, the labouring woman continues with her normal daily tasks until she is no longer able to – this has to be preferable to labouring in a hospital room, wondering what is to come.
Reason #3 – Control
When discussing my birth with my midwife prior to the event, she made a very good point – in a hospital, you are a patient. The midwives and nurses are the ones in charge – they will have strict protocol to adhere to, and lots of women and babies in their care. Things have to run a certain way, and you will have to fit in with that. Some hospitals are more lenient than others, and it depends very much on the team that are on shift when you happen to go into labour, but know that in a hospital, you are a number giving birth to another number. However, at a home birth, the midwives know that the woman is very much in charge of her birthing. The midwives consider themselves to be guests in her home, and will behave accordingly. A good home birth midwife will be there to support, encourage, inform and be ready to take charge in those just-in-case situations that, although rare, do happen. My midwife told me that many women in the past had asked her to wait in another part of the house, just in case, until the baby was ready to be born. Nowhere other than home will you have this much control over your birth.
Reason #4 – Privacy
Those of us who have read a lot about natural birth would have heard of Sphincter Law, the term coined by the famous Ina May Gaskin and her colleagues. This term refers to how sphincters (such as the anus and the cervix) behave in certain situations. Ever tried to poop comfortably in front of a group of people you have only just met? If you have, I bet you weren’t successful. And if you were successful, I doubt you enjoyed the experience. However, women giving birth in a hospital are expected to do something very similar. In order for a birth to be straightforward and comfortable, the labouring woman must be very relaxed. She has to feel that she is able to entirely let go and do whatever she needs to do to cope. Very few women are able to let go and relax in this way in front of complete strangers. The cervix is a sphincter that must be relaxed to work properly, just like the anus. Just think of the amount of women you probably know that have had interventions during their labours due to ‘failing to progress’. I wonder how many of those women would have progressed just fine, had they been in a comfortable and private environment?
Reason #5 – Quality of Care
Here in the UK, at a homebirth attended by NHS midwives, two midwives must attend the birth. Usually, one midwife will attend alone until she feels that the baby is on it’s way, then she will call the second midwife to attend. One for mum and one for baby. At a busy hospital, the chances are that your midwife will be looking after several other labouring women, and therefore won’t be able to spend half as much time with you as she would like. You will be checked on intermittently, sometimes every half an hour or maybe longer, depending on how busy the labour ward is. You may find yourself being coerced into accepting continuous foetal monitoring (to make up for the lack of presence of a midwife) which will render you unable to move from the bed – and therefore more likely to require pain relief, as you won’t be able to utilise helpful coping techniques such as walking around and soaking in a birthing pool. Staying mobile during labour can be important to helping labour progress for some women, so it’s no wonder that many women who find themselves strapped to a machine end up with epidurals and assisted deliveries or caesarean sections. This leads nicely on to…
Reason #6 – Lower Chance of Interventions
Due to the nature of hospital births, you are far more likely to find yourself needing some kind of intervention during labour. However wonderful your hospital team is, and however supportive your birth partner(s), a hospital is a hospital and most women are not able to effectively disappear into ‘labourland’, which is exactly where you need to be. The problem with interfering with labour is that interference leads to more interference, hence the term ‘cascade of interventions’. Think about it – labouring woman enters hospital. She is nervous, and although her midwife is kind, she is clearly busy. She is examined and taken to a delivery room where she can ‘settle in’. She tries to settle in but finds it hard, given that she is in a clinical environment. She is checked periodically and offered pain relief. She takes it. Due to the fact that she is nervous (and therefore tense), she is in more pain that she should be. She asks for an epidural, which is administered. She is catheterised, and is now completely immobile. She can’t feel her contractions. Eventually a doctor tells her she is 10 centimetres dilated and that she can push. She doesn’t have any sensation, and is therefore unable to instinctively know when and how to push. Her medical team direct her pushing, and it is ineffective, because she is laying on her back with her legs in stirrups,and rendered unable to follow her body’s cues. She pushes with all her might, but doesn’t get very far. Eventually, her baby’s heart rate starts to drop due to he or she being constricted by the forced, directed uphill pushing and the doctor decides that it’s time to either pull the baby out with a vacuum cup or forceps, or even worse, to deliver the baby by caesarean. If the former, the woman will end up with an episiotomy and the baby will end up with cranial trauma. If the latter, the woman will have to heal from a major operation affecting her life (and possibly her efforts to breastfeed) in a negative way, and the baby will be more likely to suffer breathing difficulties after birth. Either way, her future births will likely be affected in some way. Either way, the woman will feel like her body failed her, when in reality it was perfectly capable of doing the job that it was designed to do.
(OK, I see this point turned into more of a Reason Not To Give Birth in Hospital… Sorry about that…)
Reason #7 – Control Over Visitors
All of us have different preferences when it comes to visitors during and after our labours. For me, I wanted to be left alone, other than a few select people. Others wish to be surrounded by their nearest and dearest. At home, you have total control over who descends upon you and your little family. You could unplug the phone, disconnect the doorbell, pull the curtains and enjoy however long you want in a blissful little bubble with nobody interrupting, or (like someone I know) you could turn your birth and postnatal period into a house party! The latter is obviously the less popular option, but some people genuinely do want their family and friends to be a part of their labour or to be there very shortly after the baby is born. In a hospital you wouldn’t have that freedom, plus you would have no control over who turns up during ‘visiting hours’! Pushy family members may feel that because you are in a public place, you and your baby are public property.
Reason #8 – Home Birth (with a skilled, qualified midwife) is Safe!
Despite common opinion, home birth is very safe and low risk. British childbirth expert Sheila Kitzinger found that planned home birth with an experienced midwife has a perinatal mortality rate of 3-4 babies per 1000 births, whereas hospital births carry a higher risk – 9-10 deaths per 1000. Recently, there have been a spate of articles stating that home birth is more dangerous, citing statistics that apparently prove that – however, the problem with these studies is that they lump together outcomes from attended, planned home births and unassisted, unbooked home births. There are only a few complications that can arise during birth that are true emergencies that require immediate medical treatment in a hospital – cord prolapse, for example, and in a normal low-risk birth this is rare. In fact, it’s probably more likely to happen in hospital where your waters may be artificially broken to ‘speed things up’.
Reason #9 – It’s a Family Affair
You often hear that partners feel like a ‘spare part’ at a birth. All they can do is watch on as their other halves get on with the job in hand, feeling useless and often somewhat overwhelmed by the whole experience. Obviously, birth *is* a big deal especially to first-time parents who may not know what to expect, but in the unfamiliar surroundings of a hospital this is made even more apparent. Partners may feel lost in the shuffle, as the medical team focus primarily on the labouring woman. Yes, the labouring woman should be the #1 priority, but a birth is an occasion for the partner too. It’s a team effort. I distinctly remember at my first birth, my husband may as well have not been there when our son was born, for all i knew about his presence. I was surrounded by medical-type people (only one of whom actually bothered to introduce themselves before they surrounded me and watched the person coming out of my hoo-ha) and therefore he couldn’t really stand next to me. At our home birth with our second baby, he was my rock. We birthed that baby together; I certainly wasn’t doing it alone.
Reason #10 – Because it’s Totally Frickin’ Awesome
There’s something inherently magical about home birth. The above reasons only go partway to explaining why so many women choose (and fight for) their births to happen in the comfort of their own home. The rest of it… well, I can’t put my finger on it. The feelings of empowerment, of pride, of triumph and elation are distinctly more amazing when you are in an environment that makes you comfortable.
Of course, some women truly are more comfortable giving birth in a hospital or birth centre setting – all power to them! Home birth isn’t for everybody. However, as Michael Rosenthal OB/GYN famously said, “The first intervention in natural childbirth is the one that a healthy woman does herself when she walks out the front door of her own home in labour”.