14/08/2014 12:57 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Report Claims Home Births 'Can Be As Risky As Allowing Children Not To Wear A Seatbelt'

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Mother holding newborn daughter

A highly controversial report claims that home births can be 'as risky as allowing children not to wear a seatbelt'.

The potentially inflammatory new research claims that the surge in popularity for home births among some health providers was 'related to cost-cutting'.

But they said parents should be fully informed of its dangers.

It states: "Couples should be warned of avoidable and foreseeable risks of future child disability."

They said deprivation of oxygen - medically known as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) - can lead to cerebral palsy, and motor and cognitive problems that can be detected at school-age.

However, the practice was immediately defended by the National Childbirth Trust which said that having your baby at home 'should be considered a mainstream option for women in the UK' alongside other choices.

The new research is published in the Journal of Medical Ethics by Professor Julian Savulescu, from the faculty of philosophy at Oxford University, and obstetrician and gynaecologist Associate Professor Lachlan de Crespigny, of the University of Melbourne.

They said that when problems occur at home there can be a delay in transferring women to specialists, adding: "Vital delays are inevitable in some cases. These can lead to disability, which was avoidable if the delivery had occurred in hospital."

They added the risks were comparable to driving a child in a car without a seatbelt.

The authors said they acknowledged that hospital births are not without their own risks, and that home birth is often seen as a more natural and less interventionist alternative.

They said: "However, labour and delivery is a time of high risk, and home birth may expose the future child to unreasonable risk of potentially life-changing disability for benefits that may be comparatively small.

"Home birth appears to be a risk factor for the future child, or at least so uncertain, that it should be discouraged, pending further research.

"Doctors and midwives often do not currently tell patients that there are predictable avoidable risks of future child disability with home birth. They should do so."

But Elizabeth Duff, a senior policy adviser at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), countered the authors' conclusions, saying: "Home birth should be considered a mainstream option for women in the UK alongside birth centres and hospital maternity units, provided women have a straightforward pregnancy.

"There are many potential benefits to having a home birth, especially for low risk women and second time mothers, including better outcomes associated with continuity of care. For higher risk mothers or those having their first baby, giving birth in a hospital may be the preferred choice.

"It is crucial that prospective parents are offered the highest quality information about the risks and benefits of all birth settings."