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Home Birth Rates Highest Ever in 37 Years, CDC Reports

Update Date: Mar 05, 2014 10:57 AM EST

A new government study revealed that the rate of mothers choosing to give birth outside of the hospital setting has spiked by 56 percent within the last few years. The researchers with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the percentage of home births has reached its highest rate in 37 years. Overall, home births are still relatively rare.

Even though home births are supervised by a midwife and are typically recommended only for women with a healthy pregnancy, some experts have expressed concerns over the safety of this practice. Despite a low risk of complications, if a complication were to occur, the lack of equipment and experience in a house setting with a midwife could be the difference between life and death. Regardless of these potential risks the latest numbers reveal a jump in home births.

According to the CDC, in 2012, 1.36 percent of births occurred outside of a hospital setting. In 2011, that rate was 1.26. In 2004, that number was even lower at 0.87 percent. The researchers reported that around two-thirds of these deliveries occurred within the home setting. Another 29 percent of these out-of-hospital births took place at a birthing center and another five percent took place at a clinic, doctor's office, or some other location.

"That's a pretty good jump in a single year, and it's been a continuing trend since 2004," said T.J. Mathews, a demographer with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

The report revealed that white women were the most likely to opt for out-of-hospital births. Roughly one in 50 white women, or two percent, chose to give birth outside of a hospital setting. For Asian/Pacific Islander, black and Hispanic women, the rate fell to 0.54 percent, 0.49 percent and 0.46 percent respectively. In terms of geography, the researchers found that northwestern states had higher percentages of out-of-hospital births. The team also noted that the majority of home births are planned. In 2012, around 88 percent of the home births that occurred in 36 states were all planned accordingly, which greatly lowers potential risks involved with giving birth in a non-medical setting.

The authors of this report stated that home births in 2012 had a lower "risk profile" in comparison to hospital deliveries because fewer home births involved preterm infants with abnormally low birth weights. However, this finding could be due to the fact that women with high-risk pregnancies are rarely recommended to give birth outside of a medical setting. With great screening tools, obstetricians can warn women against home-births especially if they might need immediate medical care and the numbers reveal that at-risk women are listening to their doctors.

"If you're planning a home birth, then you're hopefully having a conversation with your physician or your midwife about whether it's a good idea," Matthews said according to WebMD. "If there is risk, women seem to be going to the hospital, or giving birth near a hospital."

A recent Cornell study reported that an infant's risk of death increased by four times if the midwife delivered the baby in a home setting instead of a medical one. However, the CDC researchers noted that nowadays, midwives work with the patient's full medical team, which can greatly improve safety. The researchers did stress the importance of discussing risk factors involved with home-births with one's doctor.

The report was published in the CDC's NCHS Data Brief.

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