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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 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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