As soon as you tell your family and friends that you plan to give birth at home, the issue of safety will come up. The people in your life mean well. They are concerned for your safety and your baby’s health. We have been conditioned to believe that a doctor attended birth in a hospital is the safest option for child birth.
What we have to realize is that the birth industry is big business. Doctors have a lot to lose if women all decided to return to the home and the care of a midwife, as has been the norm throughout human history. Most doctors will tell you that birth is safest in a hospital, but is this true? Do the statistics back up the claims?
As it turns out, the stats don’t back up the belief that birth in the hospital is safer than at home. In fact, the opposite may be true. The statistics I will provide in this blog are taken from two sources: The World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Association of Parents and Professionals for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth (NAPSAC).
It wasn’t until the early part of the last century that women began giving birth in hospitals with a doctor in attendance. Prior to that time, all women gave birth at home, with either a midwife or other mothers in attendance. Gradually women began to head to the hospital as doctors began taking over the birth industry. Sadly, the infant mortality rate has not gotten better over the last century. The statistics show that it has gotten worse.
Even the American Council of Obstetrics and Gynecology is a relatively new organization. The organization was founded in 1951. This is the organization that many pregnant women rely on for education and information regarding pregnancy and child birth. You would think that the infant mortality rate would have declined in the years since the organization was founded, but you would be wrong. In 1951, the United States was ranked in tenth place for infant mortality. Currently, the U.S. is in twenty third place worldwide. That means that giving birth is safer in twenty two other countries than it is here.
Compare the statistics in the United States with other countries where home birth is more prevalent. Holland, for example, has the second lowest infant mortality rate in the world. Currently the United States ranks a pitiful twenty third. In Holland, a little more than half (56%) of the babies are born at home under the care of a midwife.
Comparing the statistics within the United States is even more surprising. One of the largest studies ever done in this country that compared home and hospital births was conducted in 1976 by Dr. Lewis Mehl. He compared over one thousand hospital births with the same number of home births. He controlled the study for variables such as risk factors, socio economic status, race, education and gestational age of the baby.
The results of the study may surprise even the biggest doubters in your life. The study showed that the women who gave birth in a hospital were ten times more likely to have a c section than the women who chose to give birth at home. They were at a twenty times greater risk of having forceps used during the delivery and the infants showed distress six times more often than the babies born at home. After the birth, the hospital babies were four times more likely to suffer from an infection after the delivery. The mothers didn’t fair much better. The mothers who gave birth in the hospital were three times more likely to hemorrhage in the post partum period and the women had five times more occurrences of maternal high blood pressure.
You may be wondering why the numbers have gotten worse over the past decade. Technology has improved, so why hasn’t birth gotten safer? The answer may lie in the technology. Often interventions, such as the use of forceps, pitocin and unnecessary surgeries actually cause problems. Educate yourself on the safety of home birth, both for your own benefit and to better educate the people in your life.