Childbirth at Home on the Rise, Says Report

PHOTO: Deedee Williams (center) delivered all three of her babies at home.
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Long before she was even pregnant, Deedee Williams knew she wanted give birth at home. So when she and her husband Dave were expecting their first, all she had to do was convince Dave.

"He was apprehensive at first," said Deedee, who lives with her family in Memphis, Tenn. "Then he did some research about the pros and cons of home and hospital births, and he thought delivering at home had some very measurable pluses."

A team of three midwives, one of whom would go on to deliver all three of the Williams children, decided that Deedee, then 30, was a healthy candidate for a home birth. And on a March morning at 5 a.m., the Williams' welcomed their daughter Lily into the very room that would be her nursery.

"I had the room all decorated with a Laura Ashley children's seashore border up around the top of the walls," said Deedee, who said she grew nostalgic just thinking about the decor. "That was really sweet."

Dave cut the cord, and, surrounded by family and friends, the Williamses settled into parenthood.

New research suggests more women are opting to deliver at home. Using birth certificate data, researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics report they saw a 20 percent rise in home births between 2004 and 2008.

"I think there's a variety of reasons for the increase," said Marian MacDorman, a statistician and lead author of the report published today in the journal Birth. "The desire for a low-intervention birth in a familiar environment surrounded by family and friends, lack of transportation in rural areas, and cost factors could all factor in."

The total cost for a home birth, MacDorman said, is roughly one-third the cost of a hospital birth. So for women who don't have insurance, delivering at home is cheaper. On the other hand, not all insurers cover home births.

Another factor contributing to the rise in home births could be the simultaneous rise in C-sections -- the focus of the 2008 documentary, "The Business of Being Born." The film, produced by actress and talk show host Ricky Lake, suggests childbirth was transformed into a highly medicalized procedure in the twentieth century, citing reports that 95 percent of U.S. births took place at home in 1900.

"I think in general, what's available to people in hospitals has become pretty far removed from a natural child birth," said Lorrie Kaplan, executive director of the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Despite the hefty boost in recent years, home births still account for less than 1 percent of all deliveries. And while acknowledging that the risks associated with home births are low, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology does not support the practice.

"The home birth movement is part of the overall 'back to nature, organic food, farmer's market, etcetera' trend of the last decade," said Dr. Ian Holzman, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

But Kaplan refutes the idea that going back to nature is a bad thing when it comes to birth.

"Sometimes people set it up as the mother being interested in the birth process and not the outcome," she said. "I think that's a very offensive paradigm. These mothers care very much about the outcome, and the best way to have a healthy baby and mother is a vaginal child birth. They don't want to be exposed to medical interventions that aren't necessary."

After four hospital deliveries, Carrie Livengood of Lacey, Wash., delivered her fifth baby at home because she had already had a C-section and didn't want to have another. The home birth also meant she could instant message and chat with her husband, who was deployed to Afghanistan, throughout the process.

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