Opinion

New UK guidelines: Home births are safe

Health regulator advises that low-risk home births are as safe as hospital births, except for first-time mothers. One seasoned home birth mom weighs in.

Photo: Amanda Zielinsky

Two of Amanda’s three children were born at home. Photo by Amanda Zielinsky.

Crazy. Brave. Selfish. Uninformed.

These were the words I heard most from family and friends when I announced that I was choosing to deliver my babies at home. In all honesty, while pregnant with my first child five years ago, I believe I uttered all four of those words to my husband after watching The Business of Being Born.

Updated guidelines from Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence advise that midwife-led units are safest for low-risk pregnancies, and “home births are also equally as safe as a midwife-led unit and traditional labour ward for the babies of low-risk pregnant women, except for first-time mothers.” (They found that the risk of a serious medical complication was higher for first-time moms for at-home births.) With the sharp increase of women seeking the care of midwives in Ontario, data-driven guidelines like this are invaluable.

My experience, and my research changed the way I viewed the birthing process. Having grown up watching A Baby’s Story, hearing women’s horror stories and watching my sister’s own traumatic birthing experience, I was incredibly scared of child birth.

My first child, Sophia, was born in the hospital and attended by midwives. It was a very surprising experience: She arrived about two weeks early and my membranes had prematurely ruptured. I spent 95 percent of my active labour in the car, as my husband drove through construction. I arrived at the hospital 10 centimetres dilated and my daughter was delivered naturally a few hours later. Had my birth been attended by an OBGYN, I don’t think I would have been allowed to continue without medical intervention. My daughter presented sunny side-up, and if I am being completely honest, I did quite a bit of fake pushing because the real pushing felt horrible. (My husband says that they could tell when I was faking it.)

Seven months later, we found out we were expecting our second child, Anthony. I decided to give home birthing a fair chance. (Ninety-five percent of active labour in a car? No thanks.) So I did some research. With new information, and the support of my midwives, I went on to have two beautiful home births.

My first home birth was incredibly fast, and without the quick response from my midwife, my husband would have likely been playing catch with a newborn. My second home birth with my son Elliott was a little longer and a little more complicated due to shoulder dystocia, but it ended just as successfully. I am very fortunate. I am a healthy, young woman, who has healthy full-term, single fetus pregnancies. In Ontario, this qualifies me to give birth at home with two midwives in attendance.

Through reassuring reports, positive (and not-so-positive) birth stories, and looking at how women give birth in other countries, I was swayed to try a home birth. The key word here is try—I was never expecting to actually deliver at home. I was so comfortable in the hospital with my daughter, and I wasn’t sure I would be as comfortable at home. As it turned out, I wouldn’t have made it to the hospital in time to deliver our second child. And by the time I was ready to deliver our third, I couldn’t imagine doing so anywhere but at home.

Don’t get me wrong, not all women should give birth at home or even naturally, and not all women would feel more comfortable at home. Many women are comforted by the technology and interventions at the hospital. I believe there’s a time and a place for all interventions. But as Carol Sakala, director of Childbirth Connection Programs at the US-based National Partnership for Women & Families says, “Our current high rates of intervention are not serving women well, but the community is really moving in the right direction.”

If doctors and midwives can present a less subjective, positive view of pregnancy and childbirth in the future, then maybe women and doctors will be a little bit more inclined to be patient with pregnancy and delivery, only using interventions when required, rather than desired.

Amanda Zielinsky is a stay-at-home mom to three aspiring comedians. Her husband and dog share in the madness. 

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