If you’re toying with the idea of giving birth at home, you’ve probably built up a long list of questions you want answered before deciding whether this is the right option for you.
The latest ONS figures show the percentage of women giving birth at home was 2.1% in 2016, a small decrease compared with 2012 to 2015 when it was 2.3%.
Yet it is a topic parents on Mumsnet have been discussing, as there is an interest among pregnant women to find out more about whether it is a suitable option for them.
Royal College of Midwives’ head of quality and standards, Mandy Forrester told HuffPost UK there are several reasons she believes the percentage of women giving birth at home is so low.
“One is that there is lots of choice for women at the moment,” she said. “Women can choose to have babies at home, at a freestanding maternity unit or an alongside maternity unit in a hospital.
“The other thing I think is the general media portrayal is that birth is a little bit frightening for some people, so they will be in safe hands in a hospital.”
Forrester, who was formerly a community midwife, said she believes some women who initially hope for a home birth tend to change their mind because they worry that they won’t be able to guarantee a midwife when they go into labour.
“Midwives may be taken into support activity elsewhere and therefore a woman wanting a home birth may be asked to come into the midwifery unit or hospital,” she explained. “That’s enough to put someone off, being transferred in labour.
“There is also the fear that they might go into labour at home alone, so they might not be able to get help when they need it. A common thing women will say is that in hospitals, the doctors are there if things go wrong.”
With that in mind, we’ve spoken to experts about the things you may need to take into account if you’re considering giving birth at home.
Agnes Hann, research manager, at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) told HuffPost UK: “Planning to give birth at home can be a very positive experience. You don’t need lots of equipment as long as you have a few essentials and create a warm and comforting environment.”
Here are eight things you need to consider if you’re thinking about giving birth at home:
1. Decide whether it is the safest place for you to give birth.
If you are healthy and considered to be “low risk”, NHS Choices states there should be no issue in you choosing to give birth at home.
For women with medical conditions, the NHS advises that it is safest to give birth in hospital because specialists are available if you need extra help during labour. For example if you are expecting twins or if your baby is breech, your midwife or doctor will explain why they think a hospital birth is safer.
Hann explained: “The NICE guidance states that planning to give birth at home or in a midwife-led unit is particularly suitable for women with straightforward pregnancies who have already had a baby.
“For women who are expecting their first child, there is a small increase in risk for babies born at home, but a midwife-led unit can be suitable.”
NHS Choices also states that for women having their first baby, home birth slightly increases the risk of a poor outcome for the baby (from five in 1,000 for a hospital birth to nine in 1,000 – almost 1% – for a home birth).
“For women having their second or subsequent baby, a planned home birth is as safe as having your baby in hospital or a midwife-led unit,” they state.
2. Think about pain relief.
You won’t be able to have an epidural if you give birth at home.
3. Decide if you want a water birth.
You might think that having a water birth isn’t feasible if you’re not giving birth in hospital, but it is.
“Water is amazing for pain relief and also helps to speed up labour,” said independent midwife, Lesley Gilchrist, founder of My Expert Midwife. “Birthing pools can be hired locally.”
These can start from around £100.
4. Find a birthing partner.
Just like if you were giving birth in a hospital, it can be comforting to have someone with you during the process whether that be a partner, friend or family member.
Gilchrist said: “A good birthing partner is one that knows exactly what you want and understands your birth; how long it takes, what’s normal what’s not (doulas are worth their weight in gold for a home birth).”
5. Find out what you need in your birth box.
Hann said if you decide to give birth at home, your midwife will normally bring a home birth kit to your home towards the end of your pregnancy.
“Ask her what is provided, and if there is anything else that she would like you to have ready,” she said.
“Some midwives suggest preparing a ‘birth box’ with items such as protective coverings for floors and furniture and large towels to keep your baby warm. We’ve got a fuller list of things you might need on our website.”
Stuck for what you might need? Gilchrist suggested: “A shower curtain, which will help to contain any mess from waters breaking to placental mess; Coconut water/glucose sweets/drinks, as your body just needs sugar for labour and food may make you sick; Toddler bed pads, as they’ll protect your bed from any leakage of blood post birth and towels (plenty of them and have them warmed, too).”
6. Be prepared to pack an emergency bag.
Hann advised: “It’s a good idea to pack an emergency bag too in case you have to transfer to hospital, with a change of clothes, baby clothes, nappies, sanitary pads, etc.”
NHS Choices referenced a study that found 45 out of 100 women having their first baby at home were transferred to hospital, compared with only 12 out of 100 women having their second or subsequent baby.
If you’re considering a home birth, make sure you find out the answers to the following answer the questions: How long would it take if I needed to be transferred to hospital? And: Which hospital would I be transferred to?
7. Find out how to arrange a home birth.
You can book a home birth through your local midwives, your family doctor or privately through an independent midwife. Many women book home births through their GP surgery with no problems and others will choose to book their home birth and antenatal care directly with their own midwife.
If you choose to go private, you can book an independent midwife. They will accompany you to an NHS hospital if you need to transfer. To find out how about your options, head to the NCT website.
8. Remember, it’s your choice.
Hann said every woman should remember they are able to choose where they give birth, as long as their doctor or midwife have not told them otherwise (for instance, if there is a rick of complications).
“Whether it’s at home, in hospital or in a midwife-led unit, mums-to-be need to have the time and space to discuss their options with healthcare professionals and feel able to make informed decisions,” she said.