It can be difficult to find out much about what having a home birth is actually like, as with only 2.1% of mothers in England and Wales choosing to give birth at home, many mums-to-be will not know anyone who can tell them about their experience.
Of course home birth is not for everyone. Your doctor will be able to advise whether it will be safe for you and your baby. But for mothers of multiple children who have had no complications in the past, it is an option they may want to consider.
So we asked three mums to share their experience what home birth is really like, and what they’d want to tell other women still weighing up the option of a home birth.
Friends and family might need convincing. You might have the all clear from midwives and your doctor, but you may still need to brace yourself for resistance or disapproval from family and friends. Dara Stringham, 39, from Isleworth, had all three of her daughters at home. She says: “There was a lot of scepticism and the feeling that I was being either brave or reckless. But once I explained my reasons they usually accepted my decision.” Even for her, and her partner Paul, it was a gradual decision. “He was sceptical at first, but we both kept an open mind and finally decided that it could be a good thing to try,” she said.
There isn’t as much mess involved in home birth as you would think. Some expectant mothers might be put off by the prospect of destroying their home with the arrival of a birthing pool or medical equipment. But Lisa Marie Pirie, 35, from Stevenage - who birthed three of her four children at home - says it doesn’t have to be like that. “There really isn’t much mess and whatever mess there is has always been cleaned up by the time I have had a bath and the midwives have always made up a fresh bed ready for me to get into.”
Consider which option you will find least stressful. Some women might worry that being away from a hospital will increase their stress, and this could be the case for some, but Lisa Marie says she found the opposite. “I found my hospital birth to be quite stressful, I was hooked up to a monitor and was on my back throughout, I have back labours [sensations of pain or discomfort that occur in the lower back], so being on my back is the most uncomfortable position. I was given diamorphine when I complained about the pain in hospital but for two of my home births I only had gas and air, and my fourth I had no pain relief. I found being at home is far more relaxing so I could cope with the pain much better.”
It gives your partner a chance to be more involved with the birth. Eleanor Jones, 34, who lives with her husband Ian in Somerset gave birth to her second child, Bonnie, at home four years ago. She says that the experience involved Ian more than at a hospital. “Whilst the mother is working hard to birth the baby, the birthing partner will be working equally hard as your home has just become a temporary birthing unit: they will be communicating with the midwife team, putting into place childcare arrangements for older siblings, maintaining pool temperature.They will also tidy up after the birth - emptying, cleaning, packing the birthing pool, washing towels and packing away pillows.”
Your friends and family can meet the new arrival much sooner. Instead of having to wait for visiting hours on a maternity ward, Eleanor says a home birth allows for the baby to integrate into the family much more quickly. “When my son woke up, he came and met his sister in our bedroom with all his loved ones. I felt fantastic as it was just my family and I, as we bonded with Bonnie - no strangers, midwives, health care assistants, paediatricians interrupting my rest and recuperation. I didn’t need to worry about strangers hearing me, or seeing me at my worst! I had a warm shower in my familiar bathroom, got into my bed and my mum cooked me a bacon sandwich.”
But wherever you are, don’t get hung up on an ideal birth. Dara had planned water births for all of her labours, but the second baby arrived too quickly and there wasn’t time to fill the pool. This wasn’t part of the plan, but was successful because Dara stayed relaxed. “Approach the home birth with an open mind and don’t get hung up on an ‘ideal’ birth. Giving birth in any setting needs preparation and the more prepared you are for every eventuality (including the possibility of transferring to hospital) the more you can relax into the experience.”
What do the experts say about having a home birth?
Abigail Wood, head of campaigns at NCT, said: “A home birth can be a good option for women who are healthy with a straightforward pregnancy and no health conditions or previous complications.
“If you’re thinking about a home birth, it’s a good idea to talk to your midwife in the first instance about local options. Home birth services are provided in all areas but they vary from region to region. You can choose who is with you during a home birth and, as well as a midwife, you may want more than one birth partner, your children or a doula present.
“A midwife will normally bring a birth kit to your home towards the end of your pregnancy. Ask her what is provided and if there is anything else you should have ready. Some midwives suggest preparing a birth box with items such as protective coverings for floors and large towels to keep the baby warm.
“It’s a good idea to pack an emergency bag too in case you have to transfer to hospital with a change of clothes for you and the baby and nappies etc.”