One of the most common questions I was asked during my wife's pregnancy was which hospital we were going to have the baby in. When I replied that we were planning to have the baby at home, this invariably led to the is home birth safe question. I have to admit, it never crossed my own mind that home birth was anything but safe. Prior to ever meeting Robin, she had already had a successful home birth with our son. Neither he nor my wife had any complications. I'm kind of a stats guy, so I know one birth isn't a large enough sample size to prove anything, but I also knew she wasn't the only person giving birth at home.
I'm not a trained birth professional or a doctor, which makes me completely unqualified to make an assessment about the safety of birth. On the other hand, I have done a ton of reading, so I'll share the conclusions drawn by people who are experts in this area. Home birth is widely considered safe given the following factors:
- The mother and pregnancy are in the low risk category.
- The home birth is planned in advance.
- A trained birth attendant is present at the birth.
- And there is a medical facility within a reasonable distance of the home should complications arise.
Since you're reading this, the chances are you are planning your home birth at least a little in advance. If you haven't already tracked down a licensed midwife or other professional birth attendant, make that a priority. To give you an idea of what might be considered reasonable for distance to a hospital - it's approximately 45 minutes to the nearest hospital from my house and multiple sources suggested that we were close enough. That leaves pregnancy risk as the other factor.
What makes a pregnancy high risk?
A woman with a history of high blood pressure is typically considered high risk. A premature delivery is typically considered high risk, so even if you plan for a home birth, if the baby decides it's coming out prior to 36 weeks, a trip to the hospital will likely be necessary. Having previously had a C-section can also be considered a higher risk pregnancy, but there seems to be a great deal of debate about that particular issue.
There can be other health factors that impact your wife's ability to have a home birth, but those will be specific to her own health risks or those determined via various prenatal screenings that are part of mother and baby care.
Anecdotally, our midwife did walk me through the scenario of what if the baby starts to come before she and her team get to the house. That discussion was the only time in the entire home birth planning process where I wondered what I might be getting myself into. I'm not sure if obstetricians give a similar talk to expectant fathers or not, but the details of that conversation are forever burned into my brain. Even now that I have one birth under my belt, there's no way I'd want to deliver a baby without trained professionals actively participating. There was no cause for alarm in our case as we notified the midwife very early in Robin's labor and there were many hours of waiting with everyone on hand. Still, I'm pretty sure I had a deer-in-the-headlights look about me as it was explained to me how to properly cradle the baby close to one of my wife's thighs as it made it's way out of the womb.