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How Safe Are Home Births?

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As a growing number of expecting mothers are choosing to give birth in their homes instead of in a hospital, questions begin to rise about the safety of it all. While most of our conceptions of home birth have mostly been anecdotal, one group of researchers decided to conduct a more formal investigation into the matter.

After studying almost 80,000 pregnancies in Oregon, the researchers determined that the women who chose to have an out-of-hospital birth—whether at home or a birthing center—were 2.4 times more likely to have a baby die during the birthing process or in the first month of life than their hospital birthing counterparts. It's important to note, however, that the chances of perinatal death in either population is not high to start out with.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, further reveals that babies born via home birth were more likely to need ventilators or have moms who needed blood transfusions. There was also an increased risk of neonatal seizures for the baby.

But it's not all bad news for wannabe home birthers. Moms who chose to give birth out of the hospital experienced far fewer C-sections in the end (5.3 percent versus 24.7 percent in the hospital), had less tearing (hallelujah!) and fewer interventions with their labor in general.

While the number of women who give birth outside of the hospital is still a tiny amount, around 1.28 percent of all American births in 2012, it's still an increase when you consider that in 2004 only 0.79 percent of births were home births. One of the primary reasons for the rise in numbers has been a strong desire by many mothers to avoid forced inductions and unnecessary c-sections.

Proponents on both sides of the home birth debate are happy with the study's outcomes and nonjudgemental tone. As Dr. Michael Greene, the chief of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate editor of the New England Journal of Medicine tells the New York Times, "The question is what is most important to you and what risks are you willing to accept."

Melissa Cheynes, a certified midwife, agrees. "As long as we have divisive debate, I'm not sure how much progress we're going to make in making it possible for women who are going to choose home birth anyway to have a safe outcome," she tells the New York Times. Instead, "We should turn the lens on ourselves and ask how can we provide better care."

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