Death After Home Birth Raises Questions

Feb 2, 2012 4:56pm

Before hospitals because the go-to-places for giving birth, having a baby at home was considered the norm. Now, with celebrities including Giselle Bundchen and Jennifer Connelly publicly announcing they opted for a home birth, the method is increasing becoming more popular.

Recent studies show that home births are up 20 percent. But even with this renewed interest, less than 1 percent of babies in the United States are born at home.

However, the death of a respected home birth advocate in Australia as she, herself, gave birth at home resurrects the question of how safe home births are.

Caroline Lovell, 36, once advocated for midwife funding and legal protection in Australia. But in January, Lovell died of a heart attack just one day after giving birth at home to her second daughter, Zahra, the Australian newspaper Herald Sun reported.

One of the main appeals of home birth is the woman’s comfort from being in her own surroundings, according to Brad Imler, president of the American Pregnancy Association.

“The families that tend to elect home birth favor a natural birth,” said Imler.

The report sparked a burst of comments among mothers and mothers-to-be on online chat boards – some of whom strayed further from the idea.

“Just one reason why I would never feel comfortable planning a home birth,” one mother commented on the online community BabyCenter.com “Nothing against those that choose to, but this is too scary to convince me.”

Imler said that he found cardiac arrest an extremely uncommon complication, and it should not be attributed to the fact that Lovell had a home birth.

“Having birth at home or at a hospital does not trigger the heart attack itself,” said Imler. “We don’t really know that the home birth brought it on.”

A majority of mothers who commented on BabyCenter.com agreed.

“Things can go wrong in childbirth regardless of where you give birth,” one mother wrote.

But the difference between home birth and hospital birth lies in having quick access to care should an unforeseen complication emerge.

“The question would be: Had she been in the hospital, would there have been ample time to resuscitate and save her life?” said Imler.

The American Pregnancy Association doesn’t advocate a mother choose one birthing method over another, as long as a mother is educated about the risks and benefits. The Lovell case certainly doesn’t change its stance.

However, Imler said, there are many women who choose birthing centers that try to recreate the full home birth feel but are more medically equipped with staff and services.

“Labor and delivery is not a condition, and that tends to be one of the connotations of the hospital,” said Imler.

Many hospital maternity wards are starting to provide a more comforting feel to the birthing process.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), hospitals and birthing centers are the safest places to have a baby. 

Evidence suggests home births carry a two- to three-fold increased risk of newborn death compared to planned hospital births, ACOG said in a public statement.

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