Health Team

More moms giving birth at home; doctors warn of risks

Posted May 23, 2011


New government figures show more women are choosing to give birth at home, but some doctors say there are serious health issues those families should consider.

Kayti Lathrop delivered each one of her five children at home.

“My husband and I were looking for just a personal, quiet, no-drama experience to have a baby,” she said.

More moms are making the same choice. New numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show home births are up 20 percent.

“They're going to be at home, they're going to be in a very soothing physical environment (and) they're in their surroundings,” said Dr. Jacques Moritz, a gynecologist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York.

Most moms who give birth at home use a midwife. That way, sterile instruments are used and there's oxygen on hand, but doctors warn there can be complications.

“Every once and a while, a birth at home can go awry,” Moritz said.

More moms giving birth at home; doctors warn of risks More moms giving birth at home; doctors warn of risks

Studies show the risk of newborns dying can be higher during home deliveries. Doctors also recommend that only women with low-risk pregnancies consider them.

Even with minor complications in the last delivery, Lathrop said she has no regrets.

“Women have been doing this for centuries, and they’ve been doing a really good job at it. I just trusted that I could do this,” she said.

Fewer than 1 percent of U.S. births occur at home, according to the new figures, which are for 2004 to 2008. Home births had been declining from 1990 to 2004.

The increase was driven by white women – 1 in 98 had their babies at home in 2008, the most recent year for which the statistics were available. Only about 1 in 357 black women give birth at home, and just 1 in 500 Hispanic women do.

"I think there's more of a natural birth subculture going on with white women – an interest in a low-intervention birth in a familiar setting," said the lead author, Marian MacDorman of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

For all races combined, about 1 in 143 births were at home in 2008, up from 1 in 179 in 2004.

Geographically, 27 states had significant increases during those four years. Montana, Vermont and Oregon had the most home births – about 1 in 50 births were at home in those states.

Alaska's rate was nearly as high, and it's clear that some home births occur because women are in remote locations and are not able to get to hospitals in time for delivery.

The increase is notable because doctors groups have been increasingly vocal about opposing home births.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has for years warned against home births, arguing they can be unsafe, especially if the mother has high-risk medical conditions, if the attendant is inadequately trained or if there's no quick way to get mother and child to a hospital if something goes awry.

Doctor participation in home births declined by 38 percent from 2004 to 2008. The percentage of home births attended by certified midwives and nurse-midwives grew, meanwhile.

Exactly how unsafe home births are is a matter of medical controversy, with studies offering conflicting conclusions. And some argue that hospitals present their own dangers of infection and sometimes unnecessary medical interventions.

The CDC researchers did find that home births involving medical risks became less common from 2004 to 2008. Home births of infants born prematurely fell by 16 percent, so that by 2008 only 6 percent of all home births involved preterm births. That's less than half the percentage in hospitals.


Associated Press writer Mike Stobbe contributed to this report.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • kal2007 May 31, 2011

    I am one of the home birth community's dirty little secrets. My baby died less than 24 hours after a perfect home birth. We later found out the cause of death was bacterial pneumonia. The guilt is consuming....

  • wildcat May 26, 2011

    If something do go wrong IN YOUR HOME while delivering the baby, remember that you cannot SUE THE HOSPITAL.

  • wildcat May 26, 2011

    We must all do what we feel is right for ourselves.

    Yes/maybe. But when a sweet baby's life is involved, do the right thing and have the baby in the hospital for safety reasons. You don't have medical equipment sitting around your home.

  • wildcat May 26, 2011

    setting for setting.

    Correction: setting for safety. sorry.

  • wildcat May 26, 2011

    Mothers of today should really have their baby in a hospital setting for setting. In case something does go wrong, they are right there in the hospital. At home could put the mother and baby in a dangerous situation. I don't believe the mother would want that.

  • timbo10.0 May 26, 2011

    "Makes you wonder how the human race evolved without doctors and hospitals."

    Not really. Woman had 10 babies and 4 survived. You like those odds?

  • Heather May 26, 2011

    Why do you folks waste your time and energy trying to debate your side? If Mom A wants to have her baby at home and Mom B wants to have her baby in a hospital, then so what! Do you actually believe you will sway someone with your know-it-all, my side is better than your side, attitude. We must all do what we feel is right for ourselves.

  • sillywabbitthepatriot May 26, 2011

    Makes you wonder how the human race evolved without doctors and hospitals.

  • timbo10.0 May 26, 2011

    "know someone who had the most low-risk pregnancy (and seemingly uncomplicated labor) possible, but her child would have died if she had given birth at home."

    What people fail to realize is that a birth can be going along just peachy and the baby can die in a minute due to something that is unanticipated. My mom was an OB/GYN nurse at Rex for many years and it happened quite more frequently than these armchair quarterbacks can even imagine.

    If you want to put your baby at risk, fine. But I say prepare for the worst and expect the best. With midwives, you are preparing only for the best and if the worst happens, dead baby.

  • timbo10.0 May 26, 2011

    "Yes, he does have severe developmental delays and physical impairments. And after he smiles at you and tells you hello then I would love to ask you if it still was a waste of money to fight and keep him alive just because he is not what you consider "NORMAL"."

    And when you die, what's he going to do?