Home Births Safe For Most Women, But Not All, Says New Study

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Thinking about giving birth at home? You might want to make sure you're not at risk.

According to a new study published in Birth journal, home births are safe for many women, but not all.

Researchers at Oregon State University found that women who have risk factors such as a breech baby (when the feet come out first) and some cases of attempting a vaginal birth after a cesarean section may not fare as well if they give birth at home or at a baby centre, as opposed to a hospital.

birth at home

However, the study did have good news — researchers noted that some women who have pregnancy risks, such as being over 35, being overweight or having already had a vaginal birth after a c-section, are still likely to have good outcomes if they give birth at home.

According to the study, about two per cent of all births in the United States happen at home or at a birth centre — a "regulated, community-based health care facility that offers pregnant people a safe, comfortable, family-centred place to give birth," according to the Toronto Birth Centre, and the stats are similar in Canada.

Health providers are in general agreement that women who are considered "low risk" are good candidates for at-home or baby centre births, however there is little agreement on what should be considered low- or high-risk, and some women choose to have out-of-hospital births despite the risks, notes Marit Bovbjerg, lead author of the study and clinical assistant professor of epidemiology at Oregon State University.

The study's authors also note that women are allowed to decide where they want to give birth, which is why research into pregnancy risks and their outcomes are so important.

birth at home

"There's a middle or gray area, in terms of risk, where the risk associated with community birth is only slightly elevated relative to a completely low-risk sample," Melissa Cheyney, a medical anthropologist, said. "We're trying to get more information about births that fall in that middle zone so that clinicians and pregnant women can have the best evidence available when deciding where to give birth."

On the flip side, it's also important to know that there are risks associated with hospital births, such as increased interventions, meaning that there's not always a simple answer to knowing where one should give birth.

A 2015 Ontario study found that babies delivered at home with a midwife are at no greater risk of harm than those born in hospital with a midwife's assistance, if the mothers are considered low-risk, echoing the findings of a 2009 report.

If you are thinking about having a home birth, or are just curious about it, click here to learn more.