Why Home Birth Isn't For Everyone

14/08/2014 16:50 | Updated 22 May 2015

Why I think home birth isn't for everyone

When I was pregnant with my first baby, like many mums-to-be I signed up to our local NCT classes. Ours were taught by Caroline Flint, one of the UK's best-known midwives and a former president of the Royal College of Midwives.

So I was interested to see she has recently published a new book, Do/Birth: A gentle guide to labour and childbirth, in which she explains why she believes home is the best place for a baby to be born.

She writes: "I have come to believe that having your baby in a place where you feel comfortable and uninhibited – a familiar, welcoming place – can make all the difference to labour and to your baby's entry to the world.

"Your home is a private place, it is quiet, home is clean with very few nasty germs. Home is comfortable and uninhibited –a familiar, welcoming place; it is where you feel safe and where you make love to your partner."

She also writes: "A brutal entry into the world, where the baby is pulled out of its mother's body, accompanied by loud voices and bright lights, and then rubbed with a rough towel, teaches this oh-so-sensitive baby that the world is a tough place where she may not always be welcome."

Sentiments which all made perfect sense when I was a hormonal and nervous first-time mother-to-be. So, along with the majority of my NCT class, I signed up for a home birth.


I rented a birthing pool and a TENS machine and bought rubber sheets and a big exercise ball to sit on. I stocked up on scented candles and bought boxes of ice-lollies for the freezer (I don't entirely remember why now, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Yes, I knew labour was going to hurt, but I pictured myself sweating and wailing in the pool for a few hours, followed by me and my husband cosied up in our big bed with our brand new baby sleeping between us while we drank champagne and felt smug about not being in hospital.

"Yes, we're planning a home birth," I'd bore on to anyone who would listen. "I've done my research and it's just as safe as a hospital birth for a low-risk pregnancy like mine. And we're not far from the hospital so we can go if we need to. But you can have gas and air at home so hopefully there'll be no need."

And then the big day arrived. Right from the beginning my contractions were five minutes apart, so I excitedly called the midwife who came out and examined me. "You're one centimetre dilated," she told me. "It's going to be a long while yet."

Over the next few hours the contractions became more intense. My husband dutifully filled the pool and I got in, only to get straight out again as it didn't help at all. I tried to walk around like we had been taught in my active birth yoga classes but it was agony so in the end I simply lay on the floor crying.

My husband later told me that he had considered asking me if I'd mind if he wore ear defenders I was yelling so loudly, but realised it probably wouldn't go down too well.

About 12 hours in the midwife came to see me again and told me I had barely progressed at all. "It's up to you," she said, "but in all honesty I think you'll probably end up going to hospital eventually."

I felt so helpless, lying there screaming in my own living room and apparently not actually getting any closer to delivering a baby, that I decided then I wanted to go to hospital, where they gave me gas and air, later pethidine and then an epidural.

Toby, who was in a posterior position which was what made my labour so painful, was born about 36 hours later by forceps.

My point is not that I think home birth is a bad idea, far from it. I have many friends who have had happy and successful home births and would have probably hated the idea of going to hospital.

However, for many people, myself included, having medical teams on hand (not to mention their wider array of drugs than is available at a home birth) can be reassuring rather than frightening.

I know that some people have bad experiences of birth in hospital and maybe I was lucky with mine. Yes, I saw several midwives over the course of my very long labour, but every single one came to say hello and goodbye and introduced the next one personally before leaving. I always felt consulted and treated with dignity and didn't feel any decision was forced on me.

My second labour was quick and easy. Livi was in a better position and I suddenly saw what Caroline Flint and my active birth yoga teacher had been talking about. It was manageable. Walking about did help, as did being in the pool, and she was born naturally with just a bit (well, a lot) of gas and air. It was pretty amazing.

Even so, I didn't regret my decision to give birth in hospital. I'm quite sure home birth can be a very special experience, but I don't think it's necessarily best for everyone.

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