Where will you give birth to your baby? In hospital, in a birth centre, at home? For many people, this is a straightforward answer, either way. While some women wouldn’t consider giving birth anywhere other than in a hospital, some women wouldn’t give a hospital a second thought.
Why? Isn’t a home birth a lot riskier?
Not inherently, no.
When it comes to safety and the need for life-saving interventions, we are so used to talking about the risks of home births and the benefits of hospital births that the perception that home births are not as safe has become ingrained in people’s minds.
So, as always, in the spirit of helping parents and parents-to-be to make informed choices, we decided to flip this argument on its head and write two blog posts covering the benefits of home births and the risks of hospital births.
We’re not saying that there aren’t any risks to home births, and we’re certainly not saying that there aren’t benefits to hospital births, but because we know everyone’s a little more familiar with those, we are going to explore a slightly different angle.
Firstly, what are the current recommendations and guidelines for home births in the UK?
The NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) states that: “For women having their second or subsequent baby, a birth in either the home or a midwife-led unit are equally safe options. However, for low-risk first-time mothers, the midwife-led unit may be the best choice.” You can read more on their findings and recommendations here.
Remember that when planning where to give birth, we recommend that you discuss your personal circumstances with your midwife and health care professionals and go through all the choices available to you, so you can decide what is right for you.
So what are the benefits of a home birth?
You are in a familiar and private environment – your own home!
Being in a familiar environment can massively aid the process of labour and birth. It’s so important that a labouring and birthing woman feels safe and protected, and for some, home is the best place where they can feel completely at ease. We have to remember that not everyone likes hospitals – after all, they’re unfamiliar, they’re not the quietest and most private of places, and you tend to have many people coming in and out of your room. It’s not as easy for a woman to control the environment she wants to labour and give birth in.
At home, you’re in more in control of this. No one can come and go in your home – you can decide who is there with you and your midwives, supporting you through the process. Plus, from a physical point of view, being at home can do wonders in keeping adrenalin low and oxytocin nice and high. And this is great for helping the labour process along!
You get dedicated attention
Although this may vary slightly depending on where you live, women who are booked in for a home birth with the NHS are looked after by a dedicated team of midwives. They will visit you at home antenatally – they will provide you with equipment to keep in your home before the birth, tell you how and what to prepare, and two of those midwives will attend your birth. This means you will have likely met them before – they know you and your family, and you’ve had a chance to build a connection and a relationship of trust with them.
On the big day, your two midwives will be there just for you! They aren’t working on a busy ward looking other mums at the same time – they can give you their full, undivided attention. They won’t need to leave before their shift is over, and they can be with you and reassure you throughout your labour and birth. And once again, this can help you remain confident, calm and relaxed.
You can have a water birth, if you wish
If your preference is to be in water during labour or birth, you need to prepare for the fact that if you decide to give birth in hospital, this may not be possible. Although most hospitals do have birth pools, there aren’t many, and there is a possibility that one might not be available when you need it. Plus, while a lot of hospitals will be happy for mums to labour in the pool, they might have a policy that states that Mum has to come out to give birth.
Being in water can make you feel relaxed, allow you to get into more comfortable positions and help manage pain naturally. Plus when babies are born in water the incidence of perineal tearing for the mother is also reduced. So it’s really not surprising that according to statistics, half of first-time mothers who plan to give birth at home use water for pain relief. If you give birth at home and have hired or bought your own birth pool, you know you won’t be in a situation where one isn’t available for you. And if you want to also give birth in the water, you can.
You can still have pain relief
A lot of women assume that giving birth at home means you can’t get any pain relief. Whilst it’s true that an epidural can only be given in hospital, you can use a TENS machine during labour, and you also have access to gas and air – your midwife will bring it.
If you have older children, they can be at home with you when you give birth
Although this certainly isn’t a benefit for everyone, it’s definitely a huge benefit for some families. You may decide that you’d rather not have your children in the room with you in the last stages of labour and during the birth – it’s not for everyone. But knowing that they are in the house either asleep or playing with someone you trust while you give birth could be a lot more reassuring to you than worrying about their childcare arrangements if they’re not there with you. Plus, having your children at home also means that as soon as you’re ready, they can come and meet their new sibling. This isn’t always possible in hospitals, where young children may not be allowed to visit.
And if you’re thinking of giving birth at home for a range of other reasons but are unsure about the logistics of having your older children around, you can read our post about the experiences that some of our teachers shared as well as an interview with The Natal Family co-founder Steph Beaumont, who recently welcomed her fifth baby to the world (at home).
After the birth you can relax in your own home (and bed!)
Often after your baby is born in hospital and you are both settled, you may be asked to leave the room you gave birth in and move to a ward. At home, you don’t need to worry about this! You don’t need to worry about moving to another unfamiliar room or strapping your brand new baby in a car seat for their first journey home. You can climb into your own bed while the midwives take care of any sheets and towels used, and you can enjoy as much skin-to-skin and cuddles with your baby as you want. Doesn’t that just sound amazing?
We will discuss the risks of hospital births in our next blog post, so stay tuned for more to come on this!
Related to this: read about one of our teacher’s journey towards choosing a home birth.
What about you? Did you have a home birth? Can you relate to these points? Would you consider a home birth for your next baby?