Moms Talk: Are Home Births Too Dangerous?

Ricki Lake discussed her documentary on home births and encouraged women to make informed decisions about birthing options. Experts say home births are still too dangerous. Let us know what you think.

Ricki Lake is back with a new daytime talk show, The Ricki Lake Show, which debuted this past month. She wasted no time diving in to discuss controversial subjects this week, including her 2008 documentary, The Business of Being Born.

This film, which followed several pregnant women’s journeys, including Lake’s, was created to help educate women about the different birthing options, including home birth. Lake and her director, Abby Epstein, followed up with a second film, More Business of Being Born, in November, 2011. The film highlighted several celebrities, including Cindy Crawford, Molly Ringwald and Melissa Joan Hart, who all openly shared their birthing experiences.

Though both films were well received by the public, they were criticized by the American Medical Association, which said firmly in a statement: “The safest setting for labor, delivery and the immediate postpartum period is in the hospital.” So just how risky are home births, and why do many mothers nationwide choose to have one over a traditional hospital birth?

Lake, whose first child was born in a hospital, was excited when she learned about the option of a home birth. She did her research, found a midwife, and had what she described as an “empowering, transformative” experience because she was “in control” of her own body.

“I became passionate about making sure other new parents had the same opportunities," she explained. "I felt most pregnant women were overly subjected to the ‘what could go wrong’ stories and fear-based information.”

Lake said she and Epstein have received “hundreds of e-mails from parents who credit the film for setting them on a path to a positive birth experience or saving them from a potentially damaging one.” She believes the film speaks for itself but also recognizes that home birth is not for everyone.

Though home births in America have increased by 30 percent in this past decade, they still make up only 1 percent of all births. Statistics show women 35 and up, with low-risk, full-term pregnancies, make up the majority of home births. Most are assisted by midwives, and some use doulas as well. Doulas need no medical training but provide physical and emotional assistance and act as a labor coach before, during and after the birthing process. Many midwives have masters degrees in the nursing field, but many have little knowledge and experience, which worries health care officials greatly. And even more worrisome are the many horror stories all over the Internet.

Mindy Bizzell of Washington State is just one example of a home birth gone very wrong. During labor, her midwife discovered the baby was breech, so they rushed to a hospital nearly 45 minutes away. A doctor delivered the baby by forceps in the hospital parking lot, but it was too late; the baby later died of brain injuries. Another woman, a home birth advocate who had lobbied for home birth education in her hometown in Australia, died of cardiac arrest this past January while giving birth to her second child at home. The baby was healthy but never met her mother.

Health care officials say hospital births provide the safest environments should anything go wrong during delivery with either the mother or child. Some statistics show one in three home births end up with hospital deliveries or complications, though home birth advocates would argue otherwise. They call it a “beautiful, natural experience” and say they felt safer in their own home, surrounded by familiar things and their loved ones and sans all those intrusive needles, IV’s and loud noises that often accompany hospital births.

I used a midwife for my first pregnancy; she was actually a family friend. We would discuss mutual friends and what we ate for dinner as I propped my feet in the stirrups, and she often offered comforting guidance and advice when my hormones went awry. But after a rather harrowing labor and delivery (in a hospital, sans drugs) I vowed that I would never, ever endure that amount of pain again if it could be avoided. Hello, epidural!

But on the flip side, I can’t say I was particularly fond of the whole hospital experience itself with my subsequent deliveries.

There were those pesky nurses poking their heads in the door in the middle of the night, the annoying loudspeaker announcements, and worst of all, the snoring roommate on the other side of the divider in my sterile room. If I hadn’t been in so much pain, I would have hopped out of my bed and strangled her with my bare hands in my postpartum hormonal state.

Sleeping at home in my own bed, surrounded by peaceful music or even perhaps silence, would have been much more welcomed. But considering I had complications with two out of my four births, I was grateful in hindsight for the quick hands of the doctors and nurses and the neonatal unit that cared for my baby when things didn’t go quite as planned. I shudder to think what might have happened had I not been under their expertise.

Though Lake feels personally attacked for the fuss the AMA made over her films, she still stands by her support for home births and continues to educate and encourage other women to seek out their options.

Moms, what do you think? Have you ever had a home birth or would you consider one? Do you think they are as dangerous as the experts make them to seem? We want to hear from you!

Charles September 28, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Sure, let's just wing it at home for one of the most important and traumatic physical experiences. Heck, why not at the beach, or a Raider game if you feel more comfortable there? After all, it's all about comfort, right? Doctors, schmoctors - what do they know anyway?
Stamper September 28, 2012 at 05:00 PM
I really think this is a personal decision, but I do agree that I felt safer being in a hospital when my children were born. Thankfully, there weren't any problems. At Mission, I had my own room, so I didn't have to worry about a noisy roommate, but I've heard alot of friends talkging about roommates who had people visiting even after visiting hours so they couldn't get any sleep. That wouldn't be good. And most important, I wouldn't want to go without the epidural!! :) Also, another thing I liked about being in the hospital is that after my babies were born, i didn't feel like I had to get right up and start doing housework or cooking meals. i could just stay in bed, watch TV, and all my meals were brought to me. That doesn't happen once you go home with the baby.
Andrea Moore September 28, 2012 at 05:07 PM
I thought it was moms talk Charles, we had two beautiful and vary safe home births. Our midwife's were vary experienced as they both had delivered thousands of babies either in a home setting or at a birth center. Our midwife brought more medical equipment with them then you would you would find in an ambulance, and living here in Lake Forest we were never more then 15 minutes from Saddleback Memorial Hospital.
Charles September 28, 2012 at 05:28 PM
I guess I'm just weird that way - not wanting to take unncessary risks during the birth of my kids especially when I have good medical insurance to cover hospital visits. Risks might be worth taking if there's a trade off but unnecessary risks are not wise birthing decisions. Hey, it's a free country. Some people like riding motorcyles without helmets (Makes them feel "free, man, real free..."); other people like to experiment with drugs, some people bet their paychecks at the racetrack, some people don't wash their hands after using a public restroom....and some people willingly have home births when there is a perfectly good 21st century hospital available with state of the art equipment and staff down the street.
Kathleen Igo September 28, 2012 at 06:55 PM
My fifth child was born at home, and I wish I had done it with my others too. To have my daughter at home with my other kids there (two were teenage girls and I wanted them to see that birthing didn't have to be awful!) was a special blessing. No pressure from doctors to hurry things up, just a caring/professional midwife and nurse who treated me and my family better than ANY of the 3 doctors I had before. She did not "push" me do things that weren't natural, but was committed to giving me the birth experience I wanted (entirely natural, with no unnecessary interventions). When it finally happened (the stinker was three weeks late!) it couldn't have gone better. My oldest daughter gave her little sis her 1st bath! How cool is that?!? My Mom was one of 13 children born at home (1929), so why all the push for hospitals and c-sections? Last I heard, 15% of all c-sections ended with the death of the mother or the baby! Those stats are unacceptable to me. A hospital does not necessarily make for a healthier, better birth experience either. Most of my four hospital births were made unpleasant by controlling & pushy doctors and know-it-all nurses (with all due respect) who tried to make me have the kind of birth experience they wanted. If you are healthy and would prefer to avoid all the bureaucratic rules and requirements, talk to a midwife and find out what more moms and dads are discovering all the time! The wonderful and relatively peaceful experience of a home birth!
Sarah de Crescenzo September 29, 2012 at 04:18 AM
Thanks for sharing your experience, Andrea. What got you interested in having your babies born at home?
Sarah de Crescenzo September 29, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Kathleen, it sounds like you had a wonderful experience, and taught your daughters something in the process. Thanks for telling us your story.
Dinah September 29, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Birthing a baby at home is a very personal decision. For those women who feel most comfortable at home, then it is most likely the safest place for them to be. Contingency plans are always insitu should hospital care be required and transfer is necessary (or possibly mothers choice). But it is the continuity of midwifery care that assists to make birth at home safe. Midwives are experts in physiological childbirth and are very well equip to both detect and manage emergencies (before they happen) and in the event they happen (such as bleeding, shoulder dystocia, neonatal resuscitation etc). Midwives carry the necessary equipment for use if required. Just because birth is at home, does not mean that safety is compromised in any regard. My babies were born at home in my birth pool. Childbirth is magical in it's own right, but adding the comfort of being at home and not separated from those I love (and my own bed!) make it all the more wonderful.
autumn September 29, 2012 at 07:17 AM
Autumn, I am the mother of 4. My 1st was born in a Naval hospital and they almost killed me. The Dr was great but the nurses were very caught up in scarring the you know what out of me. So when I found out I was pregnant with my 2nd I knew I would have a waterbirth at home. I had a wonderful Midwife. My labor was hard but once I got into the tub most of my pain was much easier to handle. My baby was born into My hands, it was Awsome. My 3rd and 4th were also born into my hands in water. I am expecting my 5th and this one will also be born at Home in Water.
Charles September 29, 2012 at 01:06 PM
"who feel most comfortable at home, then it is most likely the safest place for them to be. " A woman's level of comfort has nothing to do with the level of safety. Her comfort level is irrelevant. "Just because birth is at home, does not mean that safety is compromised in any regard. " So why do hospitals have all that equipment in them (and specialists on standby) for childbirth doctors and staff to use in the event of a contingency or complication?
Dinah September 29, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Thanks for your thoughts Charles. I suppose you aren't alone in not getting birth and how it must unfold to progress safely. Many men are technical and birth is far from that. Humans are mammals, they require privacy, quiet, darkness etc to give birth safely and physiologically (basically all the things you need to satisfactory orgasmic sex with your partner!) Moving into a hospital with strangers, bright lights increases anxiety in the mother and often stress the baby. Coupled with shift changes and lots of different people, unnecessary interventions, bright lights, noise, distractions (some hospitals women don't even have their own toilet/shower), makes it is very difficult for a woman to give birth in this type of environment. It is even more difficult to give birth without undue pain and pain is fuelled by fear, thus more interventions causing a cascade of intervention that often results in both maternal, baby problems, which could have otherwise been avoided. You might like to read: Dr. Sarah Buckley, Dr. Michel Odent, Dr. Marsden Wagner, Dr. Amali Lokugamage. For most women, it isn't technology that makes birth safe.
Charles September 30, 2012 at 01:01 AM
"For most women, it isn't technology that makes birth safe." Most women? According to the Center for Humane Options in Childbirth Experiences, midwives are the principal attendants for [a whopping] 5 percent of the births in the United States.
Dinah September 30, 2012 at 01:55 AM
The WHO recommend that every woman regardless of risk have access to continuity of midwifery care (and the choice of place of birth that the mother so chooses), with tertiary obstetric care as required, to ensure better outcomes for both mothers and babies. It is globally recognised that the world needs midwives now more than ever. There is a very fine balance in the use of technology, in some instances when clinically indicated it can help provide life saving measures, but when inappropriately used (which is much of the time in low risk childbearing women) it causes more harm than good and the cascade of intervention so commonly seen. This is well documented in recent research if you so wish to investigate this further.
Karen Koczwara October 01, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Thanks for sharing your stories and input, everyone! I didn't know much about home births before doing this research, so I was really interested in what you had to share. It sounds like it can be a really rewarding experience for all parties!


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