Home birth: why it doesn't work for everyone

New guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say that for healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies, giving birth at home or in a midwife-led unit is as safe as having a baby in hospital.

It’s no news to me that home birth is better for mums. After a straightforward pregnancy and hospital birth (13 hours’ labour, two stitches) with my first baby, I decided to have my second at home.

baby and toddlerHow did the two compare? Well, the first time I trekked around the hospital for hours to keep the contractions going, then took the edge off in a birthing pool (lovely, thanks: warm, relaxing and fabulous for pain relief). Pushing my baby out wasn't fun but even worse was the third stage: expelling the placenta. The pain took me by surprise – even after working on a baby magazine for years, I had no idea how much it would hurt. Seventeen years on, I’m crossing my legs thinking about it.

Then there was the icky shower I was instructed to take, which wasn't particularly clean or appealing, especially as it involved leaving my baby for 10 minutes. I also hated the way my newborn daughter was tucked into bed next to me – I was so terrified she might defy the rigid hospital corners and roll out onto the hard floor that despite having been awake for 16 hours by the time she was born at 11.11pm, I didn’t sleep a wink until we were discharged 36 hours later.

My home birth, by contrast, started with a walk in the local park. When the contractions started to kick in, two amazing midwives turned up. Mary and Sue struck exactly the right balance between firm and gentle. As many women do, I found my own way to deal with the pain, by retreating into myself and focusing on just getting through the ordeal, minute by excruciating minute.

Mary and Sue didn't interfere but when I needed them they were there with words of encouragement and an unfailing sense of optimism. They made me feel safe and able to cope, even when the gas and air ran out and the only form of pain relief available was a TENS machine. That didn’t work so I dug my fingernails into my partner’s hand so hard the marks were still there 48 hours later.

It wasn’t easy and there were moments – completely unfounded as it turned out – when I wondered whether we’d both survive (I’m a born worrier), but shortly after my son arrived, at 6.30am, the midwives ran a bath for me, then passed him to me so we could get to know each other.

My daughter, who’d slept through the whole thing, woke up and came to meet her baby brother. It was a blissful moment and one we’d have missed if he’d been born in hospital. Tea and toast all round, then Mary and Sue left. I will never forget them. Luckily there’s no chance of that: I flicked through my son’s baby photos recently and there they were, beaming. Plus, my lovely friend (and Logarty side-kick) Maya was with us as well.

I’m sure some women love being in hospital and having nurses and midwives on tap during the early hours and days of motherhood. Not me: I felt much happier at home. If I’d had a third baby, I’d always intended to have another home birth. It worked so well for me that for several years after my son’s arrival I was almost evangelical about the joys of home birthing.

However, a friend’s experience changed my view. Following a textbook pregnancy, she went into labour naturally, close to her due date. She’d planned a home birth and contacted the midwives, but there was a communication breakdown and they didn’t arrive in time. Her baby was born with the cord around his neck and was starved of oxygen for 20 minutes, which caused severe cerebral palsy.

It’s likely – perhaps even certain – that if he’d been born in hospital, the medical staff would have removed the cord from around his neck before it caused irreversible damage. As it was, his life – and that of his parents and sibling – was changed forever. So that’s why, even though my own experience of home birth was wonderful, I’d be wary of recommending it to anyone else. It’s a real shame as it can be heavenly. But I simply don’t think it’s worth the risk.

I agree it's very difficult

I agree it's very difficult to recommend a home birth to friends. All you can do is tell them your experience and let them make their own judgement. After two hospital births, I opted for my third - and last - birth at home. It went pretty much according to plan except for the midwife getting stuck in rush-hour traffic and arriving later than I had hoped. I also had problems with the placenta which wouldn't expel, and the midwife did almost send me to hospital to have it removed! The best bit? Having a bath at home, knowing my baby was in the bedroom next door. Then getting into bed with clean sheets and having a cup of tea!

Glad to hear it worked out

Glad to hear it worked out for you livvi. It's wonderful to be able to have a bath in your own bathroom, then get into your own bed and snuggle up with your new baby.

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