Taking Steps Towards a Safe Home Birth
Childbirth is one of the most precious times in a family’s life, and some people elect to give birth in their homes, for the most relaxed, familiar and personal environment possible. While in recent years the percentage of births carried out at home has fluctuated subtly around the 2% mark, it is at the very least an option that a lot of people consider. Here are some of the most important elements to consider with giving birth at home.
Considering Your Options
Generally speaking, women who experience safe and ‘low-risk’ pregnancies and whose babies are safe and deemed to be developing normally can choose to give birth either in a hospital or at home. Home birthing enables you to give birth in a place you feel comfortable to do as you wish, and can put plenty of preparation into beforehand. It also means that following the birth, you can relax in your own bathtub or shower, and sleep in your own bed, and that you can have as many (or few) visitors or attendants to the birth as you wish.
However, a hospital birth does offer the additional safeguard of having a team of professionals on hand if they are needed: whether it is anaesthetic or complications in the birth, issues can be dealt with much quicker and more safely in a location designed and fully equipped for serious medical situations. The law states that women have the right to give birth at home, and cannot be forced to attend a hospital, so if your pregnancy is considered ‘high-risk’ but you are set on a home birth, you may find yourself better supported with the help of an independent midwife than an NHS one.
If you would like to have a homebirth, it is important to discuss your options with your midwife as soon as possible, as your request will need to be processed and booked, to ensure that a medical professional is assigned to you and your birth. You may well face resistance with medical professionals on the subject of home birth, and they may try to dissuade you, but persistence is the key, even when it comes to calling them out to the actual birth.
Of course, the midwife shortage in the UK has been well publicised, and it may be that there is no midwife available to attend your birth. To prevent such instances, you may wish to look into hiring the services of an independent midwife, who will ensure they will be there when you need them. You may also wish to enlist the help of a doula who can bridge the gap and offer you learned support in the absence of a midwife.
What You Need
One of the primary differences between birthing at home and hospital is that a hospital is already equipped for messy medical issues. So when preparing to give birth at home, make sure to stock up on protective covering for your furniture and carpets - tarpaulin or shower curtains serve the purpose well. A bucket should be on hand for the placenta, while a separate bucket for warm/cold compresses and flannels is handy. A basket or bag for dirty clothes, sheets and towels should also be kept nearby. It is a good idea to keep any preferential items, from snacks and drinks to CDs, essential oils and mirrors in a box in the room you hope to give birth in, and that the room itself is prepared for the birth with plenty of time to spare.
Consider where exactly you wish to give birth too: if you choose your bed, then make sure to fit it with waterproof protective sheets prior to your due date, and to make sure all the things you need will be close at hand. If you prefer the sofa, the floor or a birthing stool, prepare them similarly and try them out for comfortable positions that you may wish to use during the birth.
Some people feel that combining the elements of home and water make for the ideal birthing situation, and if you feel that this would work for you, there is a little extra preparation that needs to be put in. There are a range of pools available, from standard inflatables to solid heated ones, while the methods of filling and filtering will vary, so pick a pool that works for you and your home. Make sure to be up to speed on issues like water temperature, which stages of labour the pool can be used for, and decide on how and when you want to use the pool. Discuss water-birthing with you midwife during your pregnancy.
Although research tells us that anywhere between 30% and 45% of women who begin birthing at home end up transferring to a hospital before the actual delivery, home birthing is generally a safe option as long as your baby and pregnancy are considered low-risk. However, if complications and the need for transferral arises, it can take longer to get the help you need.
Midwives can also find themselves without the equipment or resources they need to ensure a safe delivery if the birth takes place at home. Particularly for first babies, there can be more risks attached to a home birth than to a hospital one. Although severe birthing complications are rare, they can have devastating and lifelong effects, so the choice should be made carefully.
In the event of you or your baby sustaining an injury during a home birth, it can be difficult to determine liability: if medical professionals believe that the injuries could have been avoided in a hospital, it may be decided that the professionals are not responsible for the damage.
If the birth took place in another country, seek a legal specialist with knowledge of practices, procedures and case law for that specific country to ensure you are given the best possible advice and guidance. They will have the expertise to give you an idea of how a court may perceive your case, and will be committed to protecting your interests and those of your family.