Are Home Births Dangerous?

The American Medical Association has agreed to support proposed legislation that, some physicians say, could make make having a planned birth in one's home difficult, to virtually impossible.

As of now, no actual legislation has been drawn up, but the AMA has agreed to back a measure called "Resolution 205," a request to support the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' (ACOG) position that home births are not safe.

"We are against home births, period," said Gregory Phillips, an ACOG spokesman.

Women who give birth outside of a clinical setting risk putting themselves and their newborns at risk, Phillips told ABCNEWS.com.

In an e-mail to ABCNEWS.com, AMA board member Steven Stack, MD, wrote that the AMA "stresses that the safest setting for delivering a baby is in the hospital or a birthing center within a hospital complex."

The influential medical groups -- AMA and ACOG -- now find themselves at odds with those who say women should have the choice to give birth at home or in a hospital.

The American College of Nurse-Midwives has issued an unequivocal statement in support of planned home births, citing a study in the British Medical Journal that showed home births to be no riskier than hospital births.

Although only about 1 percent of babies born in the United States are born outside of a hospital, the debate has been framed in some circles as a battle between our country's troubled medical system and mothers-to-be who want to break free of it.

ACOG's call for support came after the release of "The Business of Being Born," a recent documentary by former talk-show host Ricki Lake, in which she depicted the final stage of her pregnancy, up to the point of giving birth.

Lake chose to have her second child at her home in New York's West Village with the assistance of a certified nurse midwife. She explored, on film, the thought process behind her decision.

But it may have been the documentary's criticism of the medical establishment, both explicit and implied, that rubbed ACOG the wrong way.

Phillips said ACOG's decision to ask the AMA to support legislation to curtail home birthing -- as well as the prospects for what he (and many other physicians) consider under-qualified "lay-midwives" -- had "nothing to do with Ricki Lake."

Yet, in the ACOG proposal to the AMA's annual June conference, Lake was called out by name.

Abby Epstein, the film's director, told ABCNEWS.com that the point of the documentary was not to vilify OB/GYNs. She said that Lake's first birth was "fantastic" and was performed at a hospital birthing center. And, as the documentary explained, she added that she, herself, had complications that made it necessary to perform a c-section in a hospital.

But that does not mean that the tone of the documentary was uncritical of typical hospital-birth protocol.

"What the film has done is to cause a lot of women to choose midwives over OBs -- especially younger women who've never heard of midwives," said Epstein. "We've received calls from midwives saying that their practices have doubled since our film was released. There's a lot of ego in this -- that one would want to choose a midwife over an MD. It's really a turf war going back 100 years between the medical establishment and midwives."

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