A study has shown that home births are as safe as hospital births for low-risk pregnancies.
The study, published in The Lancet's EClinicalMedicine journal, looked into the risk of death for a child, both at birth and within the first four weeks of life. Researchers found no important or statistically different risk between hospital and home births for low-risk pregnancies.
In the UK, women can give birth in obstetric units, midwife-led units or at home. Many women prefer to give birth in a hospital or midwife-led unit where there are skilled people and special equipment available. Around one in 50 women choose to have their baby at home. It is not recommended for women having their first child as there are significant risks involved and, in the UK, almost half of women who choose home births for their first pregnancy are transferred to hospital. However, for lower-risk pregnancies, this can be a comfortable and safe option.
It is the first systematic review of its kind. The researchers from McMaster University used data from 21 studies comparing home and hospital births published since the 1990s. Those studies looked at the birth outcomes of babies in Sweden, New Zealand, England, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Canada and the USA, covering approximately 500,000 intended home births and similar numbers of intended hospital births.
Eileen Hutton, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at McMaster University and founding director of the McMaster Midwifery Research Centre, hopes that the results of the study provide the reassurance to mothers and healthcare professionals that home births are safe for women with low-risk pregnancies.
"More women in well-resourced countries are choosing birth at home, but concerns have persisted about their safety. This research clearly demonstrates the risk is no different when the birth is intended to be at home or in hospital. Our research provides much needed information to policy makers, care providers and women and their families when planning for birth," she said.
This study was published in The Lancet's EClinicalMedicine Journal.