Just over a century ago most babies were born at home with or without an attending obstetrician, aided by an army of grandmothers, aunts and close female friends. As the years went by, more women starting having babies in hospitals. They were usually under heavy sedation, dad was in the waiting room outside, the baby was delivered in a very sterile almost surreal environment, and when mom woke up several hours later she learned whether she would be buying pink or blue. With the advancement in pain management, labor/delivery techniques and mothers’ desire to “experience” the birth of their baby, rather than sleep through it and their desire to have dad in on the event, today most expectant mothers are fully alert during labor and delivery. Dad is right by her side coaching and calming his laboring partner as they wait for their little one to arrive. The mechanics of childbirth have come so far that now expectant parents are taking advantage of advanced prenatal care and specially trained medical professionals and are opting to step back in time choosing to have their baby at home.
Home births are on the rise as more parents wish to deliver their babies without drugs, in a familiar setting where they can be more in charge of the action. Advocates of home birthing believe pregnancy and childbirth should be treated as a normal physiological process not as a medical emergency. All the experts on home birth agree that if you want to have your baby at home, it is imperative that an experienced certified nurse-midwife or a qualified physician attend the birth. The best way to plan your home birth experience is to seek out a certified nurse-midwife or physician with experience delivering babies in non-medical settings.
There are many reasons people choose to give birth at home, and most have more to do with feelings than statistics. Conception, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are wonderful, natural processes and when asked, most women are reluctant to see labor as a “medical” event. For some expectant mothers going to the hospital to have their baby brings on feelings ranging from extreme anxiety to alienation when they enter labor and delivery at their hospital. For some, just being in a hospital can affect their ability to concentrate and achieve the tranquility and state of mind needed to manage contractions on their own. They feel distracted by strange surroundings and the monitoring equipment. Many moms are stressed by interruptions from hospital staff, even the distress of other laboring mothers.
Home birth isn’t for everyone. Only healthy mothers-to-be with a normal obstetrical and medical history should consider giving birth at home. Expectant mothers with any medical or pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure, excess amniotic fluid, multiple gestation or any other compromising condition should not consider home birth as an alternative to a standard hospital delivery.
The safety of mother and baby are always the overriding concern when considering the option of delivering your baby at home. First and foremost every expectant parent wants to hear “you have a HEALTHY baby girl or boy” but delivering a healthy baby is not the only measure of a satisfying and successful childbirth experience. Childbirth is one of the most intense emotional, as well as physical experiences, for any couple. The sheer power and joy of birth can survive a negative experience but all too often something is lost if the experience was stressful and traumatic due to hospital procedures and medical staff.
Many new parents report more satisfaction and fulfillment from a home birth rather than a traditional hospital delivery. Home birth gives expectant parents important psychological advantages. Many parents decide they just don’t want to give birth in a hospital or medical environment. Some expectant mothers want the peace and sense of control that a home birth can provide. A home birth allows you to deliver in the comfort of your own home, in your own bed, where you can avoid unwanted medical intervention. Experts and new parents alike feel that home birth provides tremendous opportunities for bonding, because your baby is not whisked away for standard hospital procedures or to spend the night in the nursery. Expectant parents have complete control over the environment and who attends the birth, including other children, relatives, and friends. For second time parents, the home birth experience has even more to offer. Seasoned expectant parents have more of an idea what to expect during labor and delivery and older children are spared the double whammy of a new baby and an absence of mom and dad. Research on home births shows that mothers, whose babies have been born at home, seem to find that the home birth makes it easier for their older children to accept the new baby. No parent can know how a toddler feels meeting a new brother or sister for the first time in hospital. For young children, especially, that first meeting can be one of excitement, frustration and angst all rolled into one because here is their mommy, in a strange bed, in a totally strange place, and the new baby has her all to itself.
There are disadvantages to be considered if you are thinking that a home birth may be for you. Of course, the most obvious drawback is that not everything a hospital offers will be available at your home. If complications develop or the delivery becomes an emergency situation, you may need the expertise of the hospital staff and certain equipment. For this reason, it is best to only consider labor and delivery at home if you will be 20 minutes or less from the nearest hospital. You must also have reliable transportation and you need to know the most direct route to the hospital.
Having a safe and satisfying home birth experience will depend a great deal on the expectant mother choosing a well-rounded and experienced certified nurse-midwife or attending physician. When you’re choosing a home-birth midwife, ask about her education, her credentials, and her experience with home births, as well as how she handles complications. Ask what equipment she will bring to your home. You will want to discuss what type of care you can expect for your baby right after the birth. Make sure that the nurse-midwife you choose will take care of postpartum procedures such as tetracycline or erythromycin ointment for your baby’s eyes and suctioning of mucus. Most experts agree that you should choose a nurse-midwife who has delivered at least 50 to 100 babies and is well schooled in resuscitative techniques. Experts also recommend that you establish a relationship with a pediatrician in advance and take your newborn in for a visit as soon as possible after the birth. If you are considering a home birth, talk to other parents who have given birth at home and find out what they liked and did not like about their care giver but don’t wait until a month before your due date to start your homework.
Another detail you’ll want to take care of well in advance of the birth of your baby is help at home. If you’re considering a home birth, be sure to line up some help for after the baby comes. With a home birth, you won’t have all those extra hands provided by the hospital nursery. Talk with family and friends and schedule them in advance to come and stay for a few days. Another option would be to hire a postpartum doula. These professional baby/postpartum mother nurses can be pricey but well worth the investment if you don’t have an abundance of family and friends close by and especially if you have other children to care for in addition to your new arrival.
For more information on the how to prepare for a home birth, you can contact The American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) in Washington, D.C. at (888) M-I-D-W-I-F-E. They can direct you to home-birth resources, including a list of certified nurse-midwives, in your area. You can also visit the ACNM website at http://www.midwife.org. Another resource is the Midwives Alliance of North America. They can be contacted at 316-283-4543 or visit their website at http://www.mana.org. You can also contact The Association for Childbirth at Home International at 213-663-4996. They act as a clearinghouse for home-birth information, resources and support for expectant parents exploring the home birth option.