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Home births increasing, but numbers still small

Published: Friday, Jan. 27 2012 9:20 p.m. MST

The number of women giving birth at home increased 29 percent from 2004 to 2009.

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The number of women giving birth at home increased 29 percent from 2004 to 2009, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though the total percentage is still small — it went from .56 percent of U.S. births to .72 percent — that's more than 30,000 babies born outside of traditional hospital settings. And it comes after 14 years of decline.

The report, prepared by the National Center for Health Statistics in the CDC, found that home births are more common among moms 35 and older and those who have had several other children. Non-hispanic white women are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to give birth at home. They accounted for about 90 percent of the increase.

The report didn't look at why home births are increasing, but lead report author Marian MacDorman, a statistician at the CDC, told USA Today that "a lot of women really like the idea of a home birth because they want a lower-intervention birth. A lot of women are worried about higher C-section rates and other types of interventions that happen once you go to the hospital."

Most home births are attended by midwives, while only a small percentage of in-hospital births involve midwives; 92 percent of those are attended by physicians. But one-third of home births were attended by "other," a category that includes a family member or emergency medical technician.

The report noted that "woman may prefer a home birth over a hospital birth for a variety of reasons, including a desire for a low-intervention birth in a familiar environment surrounded by family and friends, and cultural or religious concerns. Lack of transportation in rural areas and cost factors may also play a role, as home births cost about one-third as much as hospital births."

It also noted that "home births have a lower risk profile than hospital births, with fewer births to teenagers or unmarried women and with fewer preterm, low-birthweight and multiple births." That suggests, the report said, that "home birth attendants are selecting low-risk women as candidates for home birth."

The increase marks women's desire to embrace "what is normal physiologically," Saraswathi Vedam, chairwomen of the American College of Nurse-Midwives' panel on home birth, told Time Magazine. "There is an increased interest in everything about healthy living."

She said that well-planned home births (as opposed to can't-wait, baby's-coming births) have a trained attendant who is equipped to monitor the baby and mom, stop bleeding and otherwise provide a healthy experience. She said good candidates are women who have had healthy, uneventful pregnancies and do not have complicating medical conditions.

"We're not talking about making a decision about where you're going to give birth and sticking to it. If your risk profile changes, then you change the plan and go to the hospital," she said.

Montana and Oregon had the highest rate of home births at 2.6 percent and 2 percent respectively, while the lowest rate was .2 percent in Louisiana and the District of Columbia. Home births overall had higher rates in the northwestern and lower rates in the southeastern United States.

To count home births, the researchers relied on data from the National Vital Statistics System, which includes information on all births in the United States, as well as maternal and infant demographic and health characteristics.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com

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