CDC Study Says Home Births on the Rise in U.S.

After having her first child in a hospital, Lorra Jacobs decided it was an experience she did not care to repeat.

She had two more children, and she chose to have both of them at home.

"When I had my first child in the hospital, I was young and I didn't know of any alternatives. It wasn't a real positive experience," said Jacobs, who now works as the office manager at Mat-Su Midwifery in Wasilla, Alaska. "It was a stark, very impersonal feeling, treating me like I was sick and not pregnant."

Jacobs explained she believed she had more control over many aspects of the birth when it took place at home, including whether she got to be with the baby after delivery and having the siblings there at the birth.

"Doing a home birth, I felt like I had a say," said Jacobs. "This is not the hospital's baby. This is my baby."

New numbers released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that a very small but slightly growing number of women are making the same choice that Jacobs did. While less than 1 percent of all births in the United States take place outside the hospital, the number of those births taking place at home has increased by 3.5 percent between 2003-04 and 2005-06, according to the new report. The stats say there were 46,371 home births in 2003-04, and 49,438 home births in 2005-06.

"They're still not that common, but we did see some increase," said Marian MacDorman, a statistician at the CDC's Nation Center for Health Statistics and one of the study's authors.

The new numbers came after a period in which births outside the hospital, which can include births at a birthing center or in a doctor's office, as well as home births, had been decreasing since 1990.

Some of the breakdowns behind the new numbers suggest that the most recent trend might be a negative reaction to a hospital birth experience, since the majority of mothers choosing a home birth have had children before.

"The fact that it's primarily women who had kids before and had birth in hospitals before, certainly suggests it's a reaction to their prior birth," said Eugene Declercq, a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, and a author of the study. "It certainly suggests it's an experience they don't want to repeat."

Finance Not A Likely Driving Force

Home births may cost only a quarter or a third of what a hospital birth costs -- $7,737 for a vaginal delivery, $10,958 for a C-section, according to a 2004 March of Dimes study -- but finances do not appear to be a prime reason for choosing home births.

The CDC's numbers appear to suggest that finances are not a driving force, since mothers who are older and better educated seem to choose home birth most often.

"I suspect that economic issues are not the main issues," Eileen Ehudin Beard, a nurse and senior practice adviser for the American College of Nurse-Midwives. "I suspect consumers are becoming more informed … and seeing home births are a safe alternative for healthy women with a qualified provider."

She said a likely cause of any increase is a desire to avoid the interventions hospitals perform, ranging from cesarean sections and epidurals to controlling when the mother is with the newborn.

"I think a lot of consumers are really scared by the high cesarean rate, and they're becoming aware that Caesarian is a major surgical procedure," said Beard.

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