Giving birth can be simultaneously both exciting and stressful. The birth place setting can either ease your stress or add to it. For some women, a hospital setting where there is access to a plethora of medical professionals and life saving emergency equipment is best. For others, the more relaxed environment of their own home provides the ideal birthing situation. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, but is one better than the other?
For many women, planning a home birth is the only way to go when expecting. Being at home can provide an added level of comfort and calm that just isn’t possible in a busy hospital setting. And statistically speaking, planned home births are just as safe as hospital births under certain conditions (Janssen, et al.). There are numerous benefits associated with home births; however, there are also a few disadvantages and risks.
1. Just as safe as hospital births for women with low-risk pregnancies who have had good prenatal care and who are working with an experienced home birthing professional (Janssen, et al.).
2. No shift changes so the midwife, doctor, etc. stay throughout the birthing process.
3. No inconvenient visits or interruptions from hospital staff throughout the night.
4. Ability to have any family or friends the women wants present during the delivery.
5. Increased privacy and comfort at home.
6. Enhanced post-birth bonding between the baby and mother, as well as between the baby and other family or friends who are present at the birth since the baby remains with the mother and family at all times.
1. Unforeseen complications during delivery might require a trip to the hospital at a difficult time.
2. No neonatal unit immediately available for the baby.
3. Not an option for women who’ve had high-risk pregnancies or other medical and health concerns.
4. Limited post-birth assistance around the house if family or friends are unavailable to help.
5. Insurance might not cover a home birth.
There was a time when women always gave birth at home, but in the United States it is now more common to give birth in a hospital. There women can feel confident that if an emergency arises, the appropriate medical experts and equipment are readily available. Virtually all of mother and baby’s birth related needs can be met during their time there. Despite the many advantages to giving birth in a hospital, though, many women will likely experience some dissatisfaction in even the best maternity units.
1. Hospitals can handle a variety of birthing situations, including cesarean births and multiples, for example.
2. Immediate access to healthcare specialists and medical equipment in the event of a medical emergency.
3. Immediate pediatric care available for the baby if needed.
4. Full nursing and housekeeping staff available to assist the mother and baby around the clock.
1. Lack of privacy.
2. Constant hospital staff visits to the mother’s room can become intrusive.
3. Father of the baby’s involvement in the birth process can be limited by hospital regulations.
4. Slightly higher risk of infection in the mother and baby (Science-mom).
5. Mother and baby will experience time apart as baby may be taken to the hospital nursery for various reasons throughout their stay.
6. Limited visiting hours for family and friends depending on hospital policy.
So which is better, home birth or hospital? It really depends on each woman and her preferences. There is one popular study done by Dr. Patricia Janssen and colleagues that is frequently referenced in articles on the topic. Researchers conducting the study compared planned home births to planned hospital births. What they found was not that one option was better than the other, but that planned home births are just as safe as hospital births. Many articles can be found on the internet in support of one option over the other. However, most of these are based on personal opinion and/or experience and not on scientific data and research.
I’ve actually experienced both types of birth in different capacities. When I was 14 my mother gave birth to my sister at home. My parents planned it that way. My mother had a midwife and the doctor providing her prenatal care specialized in home births. As a teen, it was certainly a different experience as my younger brothers had both been born in hospitals. But with my sister’s birth, there was no rushing to the hospital or dropping off kids with relatives or neighbors. I was able to see my baby sister immediately, whereas in the past may not have been able to see my new baby brothers for at least a day or two after they were born.
Recently, I gave birth to my own baby in a hospital. That was my preference, but considering my age (36) and a history of breast cancer I wasn’t necessarily a candidate for a home birth anyhow. I felt more comfortable planning for a hospital birth, but things definitely didn’t go as anticipated. Everything I wished to avoid seemed to happen: the doctor broke my water, I was given pitocin, I took the epidural much sooner than I had expected, and I ended up having a cesarean. And after a few days in the hospital I began to feel overwhelmed by all the staff coming in and out of my room at all hours. Yet, despite it all I would give birth in the hospital again. It just makes coming home that much sweeter.
American College of Nurse Midwives (2005). Home Birth. ACNM Board of Directors.
Babies Online. Home birth vs hospital birth. Online (retrieved May 21, 2010): http://www.babiesonline.com/articles/pregnancy/home-birth-vs-hospital-birth.asp.
Janssen, Patricia A., Shoo K. Lee, Elizabeth M. Ryan, Duncan J. Etches, Duncan F. Farquharson, Donlim Peacock, and Michael C. Klein (2002). Outcomes of Planned Home Births versus Planned Hospital Births after Regulation of Midwifery in British Columbia. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 166(3): 315-323.
Olsen O, Jewell D (2005). Home versus hospital birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 3.
Science-mom. Home birth versus hospital birth. Online (retrieved May 21, 2010): http://www.texas-midwife.com/choices.htm.