Home Births on the Rise

January 25, 2012

It's Been 100 Years--Home Births

Women have given birth at home for millennia - until the early 1900s when they began to move to hospitals to have their babies. Now, a century later, home births are beginning to become popular again as women desire to have more control over their lives and their birthing experience. Last year, in the summer of 2011, headlines were made all over the US proclaiming the "astounding increase of 20% in home births."

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, home births declined from the boon they enjoyed during the 1970s and ‘80s. However, in a very short four year period from 2004 to 2008, home births jumped 20%. They still only represent a tiny number of the 4.2 million births that took place during that period - less than one percent - but the numbers rose and are continuing to rise every year. What has prompted the jump in numbers?

Why Do Women Want to Have Their Babies at Home?

There are a few theories as to what has pushed the numbers up.

· Home births, especially during the 1970s and 80s was the domain of young people who were reacting to the establishment. "At first, in the 1970s, it was largely a hippie, countercultural thing to give birth outside of the hospital. Over the years, as the formerly ‘lay midwives' have become far more sophisticated, so has their clientele." explains medical anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd.

· Home births became hip in 2008 with the release of The Business of Being Born, a documentary produced by Ricki Lake that promoted the virtues of having your baby at home. The film, although roughly criticized by the medical society, hit a nerve as it asked the compelling question: "Should most births be viewed as a natural life process, or should every delivery be treated as a potentially catastrophic medical emergency?" This film served as a sort of catalyst to realizing the possibility that home birth could be seen as less controversial and more mainstream.

I Don't Want Medical Intervention if I Don't Need It--Home Birth

· Women want more control over their birthing experience and are unwilling to put themselves into a situation where they may have a medical intervention, especially a c-section, that probably isn't necessary. Many women believe that they'll have a better chance of a vaginal birth at home and according to Annette E. Fineberg, MD, and ob/gyn in the department of women's health at the Sutter West Medical Group in Davis, California, "Sometimes, they're right."

· The findings of a review paper published in 2010 stated that college-educated white women in their 30s and 40s who have already had at least one child are the most likely to opt for home birth. They've done their research and they're well informed. Women are having fewer babies these days and with the internet, they are able to look at all of their options for a practitioner, midwife, doula, and ob/gyn to ensure they have a group of people they can work with who will help them have the kind of birth they are seeking.

It's A Personal, Loving Experience--Home Birth

· Home births are appealing because, for a low-risk pregnancy, they're safer and less expensive than having a baby in the hospital - especially for the uninsured. For a woman who is unlikely to experience complications in her pregnancy having her baby at home provides her with the assurance that she's surrounded with people who love and support her, she's going to get more personalized care, and her experience will be deeply personal to her and her family.

Doctors Fear Law Suits--C-Sections

The concern over surgical interventions in hospitals is well founded. Aaron Caughey, MD, PhD, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Center for Women's Health at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland says, "There is currently a cesarean epidemic in the United States."

He pointed out that the numbers prove it as cesarean sections have jumped 50 percent between 1996 and 2009, "making cesarean delivery the most common surgery that a woman under the age of 50 will have."

Doctors fearing law suits and hospitals that refuse to let women who have had one c-section deliver their next baby vaginally have sent women looking for alternatives. And, it appears they've found one in home births.

You can read more about the home birth debate in other articles in this section.

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