Homebirths are growing in popularity, but still only account for a small number of Australian births each year.
Several years ago, in the state of Victoria, more babies were born before arrival at hospital (0.4%) than there were homebirths (0.3%).
With the more recent addition of government supported homebirth programs, the number of homebirths has increased.
If you’re considering a homebirth, you’ve probably noticed that everybody seems to have an opinion on where you should give birth to your baby.
As soon as the word ‘homebirth' leaves your lips, some people will challenge your decision to have a homebirth – even telling you that their baby would have died if it would have been born at home.
While this may be true in some cases, homebirth midwives will recommend high risk babies be born in a hospital, not at home, so it likely wouldn’t have happened at all.
Many of the reasons against homebirth you'll hear will be based on misinformation. At the end of the day, birth is a very personal event – a rite of passage – and only you can decide where you want to give birth. To help you sift through all the misinformation, here are some popular homebirth myths, debunked:
Homebirth Myth #1: It's Only For Second Time Mums
Wrong. Plenty of women choose to give birth to their first babies at home too. One study found that just over a quarter of women who gave birth at home were having their first baby. Whilst second time mums have the added advantage of knowing what birth is like, that doesn't mean first time mums need to miss out on the experience of a homebirth. Homebirth is a safe option for any low risk woman, regardless if it’s their first baby or not.
Homebirth Myth #2: It's Not Safe
The Australian College of Midwives supports homebirth for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. If you are having a low-risk pregnancy, your healthcare provider should support your decision to have a homebirth, and offer advice to assist you in this. If they do not support you, you’ll feel much better if you change care providers to someone who will be supportive of your choices, even while discussing any possible problems with you.
A recent Australian study (by the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Midwifery) analysed the data of 1807 planned homebirths over a five year period. The information was compared to hospital birth statistics, which found that homebirth had a reduced risk of stillbirth and early neonatal death. It also identified an increased chance of having a normal vaginal birth, and a reduced risk of third degree tears. The small sample size limits the conclusions that can be made from the data, but it is certainly reassuring to see the results of the study, confirming that homebirth is not considered to be riskier than hospital birth.
An earlier, very large study produced similar results. A study from the Netherlands of over 500,000 women concluded that homebirth is safe for low risk women. They found:
“No significant differences were found between planned home and planned hospital birth, intrapartum death and neonatal death during the first 24 hours, intrapartum death and neonatal death up to 7 days, admission to neonatal intensive care unit.”
You can read details of the study here. It is important to note that in the Netherlands, they have a health system set up to support homebirthing women, leaving women in other countries frustrated that we don’t yet have the same support and acceptance.
Homebirth Myth #3: You Can't Have A Homebirth If You Have [Insert Condition Here]
There are many reasons why women believe they are unable to have a homebirth. Previous caesarean section, haemorrhage, and high blood pressure are examples of situations that may lead to women being told homebirth is not an option. In fact, it is still possible to give birth at home, and many women do so. You may need to find a midwife who is supportive of your decision to birth at home, but be sure to listen to your midwife if she feels that you should be referred to an obstetrician or specialist. If any complications arise during your pregnancy, it’s important to be open to switching to hospital-based care.
Homebirth Myth #4: Hospital Is The Best Place For You And Your Baby
Hospital is currently the default position for the majority of births, but that doesn't mean it is the only suitable venue for childbirth. It is important that you feel safe, calm and relaxed for your body to work best during labour. If a hospital will prevent you from feeling this way, then it may not be the best place for you. Likewise for homebirth. The argument that births should occur in hospital stems from belief that birth is risky and dangerous. Though of course there are risks, these risks are minimal for a healthy pregnancy. Just like any bodily function we are born with, for example breathing or waste elimination. These are specific functions that has been designed to work, for survival of the species. Sometimes we need a specialist for certain conditions when things do go wrong. But it’s not a requirement when things are normal.
Homebirth Myth #5: There's No Pain Relief
It's true that some pain relief options are not available for women giving birth at home, but there are still plenty of forms of pain relief available. In fact, homebirth midwives are quite skilled at natural pain relief options that are quite effective.
Choosing a homebirth does not mean you will be forced to grit your teeth and bear it. An epidural will be out of the question, because that needs to be administered in a hospital setting, but most other forms of pain relief are available. Narcotics, such as pethidine, cannot be prescribed by midwives, but you can request a prescription for these from your doctor before the birth as a ‘just in case' if you wish. You can also hire gas to use at home, if you think you may like this during labour. Water births, TENS machines, paracetamol, hypnobirth/Calmbirth and breathing exercises also also often used by women giving birth at home.
Homebirth Myth #6: Hospitals Are Cleaner
It's true that hospitals probably have a bigger budget for cleaning staff than you do. Your house is unlikely to have a friendly cleaning team complete with cleaning trolley who will be making sure you give birth in a clean environment. Cleaner doesn't necessarily mean safer though. You are exposed to the germs in your home on a regular basis, whereas the germs present in hospital can be unknown to your immune system and therefore a bigger threat. Giving birth at home reduces the risk of infection for both mother and baby.
Homebirth Myth #7: Homebirth Is Messy
Birth is messy, that's true. In a hospital there are paid staff to clean away any mess, and this won't be the case at home. However, it is possible to have a homebirth without leaving a mess. Once you decide where in the home you'd like to give birth, you need to protect the furnishings and floor coverings from any mess. Collect old towels, sheets and coverings to protect your belongings. It won't take long to prepare the room on the day, and if you make sure your midwife and birth partner know where the spare coverings are, they'll be able to keep on top of the mess whilst you're in labour.
If you choose to give birth in a birthing pool, the mess will be contained and easy to dispose of. All you'll need is some coverings to protect the floor, and your sofa or bed depending on where you choose to lie straight after the birth. Make sure you have enough coverings, cloths and cleaning supplies so that cleaning up afterwards is easy enough.
Homebirth Myth #8: Everyone Is An Expert
You are probably receiving homebirth advice from your friends, mother in law, and complete strangers in the street. Everyone thinks they're an expert on birth – even those who have never experienced it. If you want to get advice from a real homebirth expert, speak to someone who has had one. There are homebirth support groups across the country offering the chance to speak to women who have had homebirths, midwives and doulas for advice and information about homebirths.
Homebirth Myth #9: “Homebirth? Isn’t That For Hippies?”
I really don’t like using labels, especially when it comes to people we know very little about. However, a common response to homebirth is that it’s something so ‘out there’ and alternative, that only a ‘hippy’ would bother doing such a thing.
- Demi Moore: Hippy
- Hugo Weaving: Hippy
- Bear Grylls: Ya, hippy as
- Woody Harrelson: Yep, hippy
- Meryl Streep: … hippy
- Julianne Moore: Totally Hippy
- Cindy Crawford: Soooo hippy
Its not about celebrities being fashionably ‘hippy’ either. Homebirth is the preferred choice of many women and their partners, no matter if they live communally, are university educated, are business owners, lawyers, musicians – even the person walking past you in the street may have had a homebirth.
Homebirthers are simply grown ups like you and I, who have made an informed decision on the best place for their babies to be born. In fact, they tend to do far more research than their hospital birthing counterparts.
Homebirth Myth #10: “Do You Want It To Be Like The Old Days? So Many Died!”
Back in ‘the old days’, women gave birth at home. When hospitals came on the scene as a place to birth, it was hospital birth that was seen as scary, not homebirth. While things have certainly changed, the cause of the deaths ‘back in the old days’ were for different reasons. Nutrition and sanitation were not understood as they are today, often leading to fatal infections. An example is what was called childbed fever (aka Puerperal fever), which occurred even in hospitals. Then there was “The Doctor’s Plague” which was a common occurrence from the 1600’s through to the 1800s. Many childbed fever cases were actually caused by doctors. With the lack of sanitary knowledge, doctors believed hand washing was not necessary. In fact, a leading American obstetrician and teacher, Charles Meigs, was quoted as saying: “Doctors are gentlemen, and gentlemen’s hands are clean.”
In ‘the old days’, diagnostic medicine was far from what it is today, so undiagnosed health problems were left unnoticed. Today, midwives and doctors have a far more extensive knowledge and understanding of pregnancy, childbirth, complications and their treatments. So to say that giving birth at home will be bringing back the old days is folly.
If a woman chooses a homebirth, she will be very well cared for. Medical conditions can be identified, tested for and treated before she gives birth, resulting in better outcomes. For complications at birth e.g. haemorrhage, the specially trained homebirth midwife has supplies of the very same injection they would use in hospital to stop bleeding. She also has an oxygen tank and other medical supplies. A homebirth midwife doesn’t just turn up and hope for the best.
Sadly, we have gone too far interfering in birth. One out of three babies in Australia and the United States are born by caesarean section. Has that made birth safer? Are babies healthier as a result? What about mamma? She is important too. When you consider that the US has the highest newborn death rate in the industrialised world, and the maternal death is also increasing, not decreasing, it’s abundantly clear: more doesn’t always = better.
Choose the birth option that feels best for you.