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Home Birth Myths: Busted

The myths surrounding home birth are loud and convincing. But that doesn’t make them true. For those who are open to it, in this blog post I share the truth about home births and why three of the most common home birth myths don’t have anything to them.

a mom and a newborn at home

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Not that long ago, all women gave birth at home. Hospitals didn’t exist as we know them now. Home birth was the norm.

Everything changed when birth moved to the hospital. And while some lives were saved that would have been lost without modern medicine, many others have been affected in negative ways that could have been avoided if birth had remained at home.

Because our culture has shifted toward hospital births, many people don’t understand home births or why a woman would choose to give birth without the attendance of doctors with medical equipment on hand.

There is far too much to be said in response to that, so for the purposes of this blog post I want to address three of the most common myths about home births.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

3 Home Birth Myths: Busted

I know the controversy surrounding home birth is real. And while I chose home birth based largely on my gut feeling and beliefs about birth, I know a lot of people want some more concrete stuff to go on. 

Since giving birth to my first daughter, I’ve found some great studies that back up what so many midwives and mothers have known about home birth all along.

I’m excited to share them with you.

Let’s start with the big one.

MYTH: More moms and babies die during home births than during hospital births.

It’s easy for people to assume that more moms and babies die during home births than during hospital births. Maybe it’s because we associate medicine and technology with life-saving procedures. Maybe it’s just cultural conditioning.

Whatever it is, it’s actually not true.

The truth was made clear in two huge studies published in 2019 and 2020.

The same group of researchers published these two separate studies in which they looked at the experiences of about 500,000 women who planned to have a home birth and the births of 500,000 babies. (Those are huge studies, by the way.)

The 2020 study looked at the mothers’ lives, the 2019 one at the babies’.

What did they find?

Not one of the mothers died. Zero.

What about the babies?

In their words, “the risk of [the death of a baby] was not different when birth was intended at home or in hospital.”

In other words, babies are no more likely to die at home than they are in the hospital. This holds true whether we’re talking about first-time moms or mothers who have given birth before.

Three Significant Factors

It’s important to note that 1) these mothers were low-risk, 2) the home births were planned, and 3) these births were attended by qualified midwives.

Those three things have to be recognized because, as one researcher points out, “there is rarely any differentiation between the media reporting of adverse outcomes associated with freebirth [and the reporting of] homebirth attended by registered health providers.”

What she means is this:

Home births are portrayed as dangerous in the news and other media. Why?

Because the people writing the headlines don’t make a distinction between mothers who choose to give birth at home without a midwife, whether they have preexisting complications or not, and those who are low-risk and attended by a good midwife.

When that separation isn’t made, the data is drastically skewed.

Experienced midwives know that emergencies in birth are preceded by warning signs well in advance if you know what to look for. If they are attending a home birth and see these signs, they will get the mother to the hospital where she will be cared for appropriately.

If no midwife is in attendance, no one can warn parents of impending danger. And that means it’s more likely that a mother or baby will die or experience severe complications.

So, to summarize, if home births are:

  1. planned and
  2. attended by a qualified midwife and
  3. the mother is low-risk,

home births are just as safe, in terms of risk of death, as hospital births.

MYTH: Emergencies are common at home and will require transfer to a hospital.

This is an interesting one. Let’s break it down into two parts.

First, most home birth transfers are actually not because of emergencies.

In 2014, a group of researchers performed a meta-analysis (meaning a study of previous studies) that looked at 15 studies about home birth transfers.

The most common reason for hospital transfer was slow progress in labor.

Often, that just means labor has been going on for longer than expected, for a number of possible reasons. And because labor has been so long, the mother is probably exhausted and could benefit from a little help in the form of Pitocin and an epidural.

Even in the study with the highest number of transfers because of slow progress in labor, only 9.8% of women were transferred, which is less than 1 in 10.

When it came to emergencies, transfers only happened 5.4% of the time at most.

In three of the eight studies that reported emergency transfers, the rate was 3.4%. In three others, the rate was 1 or 1.8%. And one study reported no emergency transfers at all.

So, to summarize, transfers for any reason are relatively uncommon, and transfers for emergencies are even rarer.

Second, some birth emergencies that happen in hospitals happen because moms are in the hospital (and therefore are rare at home).

Three emergencies people worry about when it comes to the supposed danger of a home birth are hemorrhaging, breathing problems for the baby, and needing a c-section.

Put simply, the reason each of these is rarely a problem at home is because women birthing at home don’t experience a phenomenon called the cascade of interventions. The premise of this cascade is that one medication or intervention often leads to another…and another…and another.

Quite often, this cascade results in a c-section, hemorrhaging, or breathing problems for the baby.

For more about c-sections, hemorrhaging, and more, check out The Cascade of Interventions [Explained]. For details about medication being connected to breathing problems in the baby, go to Medications During Labor: Is It Worth the Risk?.

MYTH: Negative outcomes for mom and baby happen more often at home than in the hospital.

This is one of my favorite myths to bust because the opposite is actually true.

In the study mentioned above (the one that looked at the experiences of 500,000 moms) home birth mothers had lower risk of c-section, operative vaginal birth, epidural analgesia, episiotomy, third- or fourth-degree tear, oxytocin augmentation, and infection.

Another study of nearly 13,000 women added hemorrhaging and fever to the list and found that “the risk of all adverse maternal outcomes…was significantly lower among the women who planned a home birth than among those who planned a…hospital birth.”

When it came to babies’ experiences, the researchers found that babies born at home had less birth trauma, less need for resuscitation, and less meconium aspiration (or at least no more) than babies in hospitals experience.

This is, in part, because midwives attend home births. And midwives consistently have better birth outcomes than doctors.

Conclusion

With those three myths busted, it should be easier to see through the clouds of misinformation and form a more accurate opinion of home births.

Moms and babies are no more likely to die at home than in the hospital (maybe even less so).

Emergencies at home are rare. Most transfers happen because of non-emergencies and some hospital emergencies happen because of hospital routines and procedures.

And negative outcomes for moms and babies occur less often at home than in the hospital.

That’s pretty encouraging, if you ask me. 

If you want to keep learning, I recommend reading Are Home Births Safe? next.

And if you’re still hesitant to get on board the home birth train, I don’t blame you. I know I’m working against decades, even centuries, of cultural conditioning. And I know your life and experiences are different than mine.

The good news is that hospitals can still be a good option, as can birth centers. 

But all that said, just know that for those who choose it, home can be a wonderful – and wonderfully safe – place for birth.

Until next time,

Allison

READ MORE:

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Home Birth

Home Birth Prep: 7 Steps to Make Sure You’re Ready

8 Home Birth Tips That Will Make Your Birth Even Better

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