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Landmark Study is Good News for Home Birthing Families
by Wendy Priesnitz

The results of the largest-ever U.S. study on planned home birth are good news for couples wanting a home birth. Published on January 30, 2014 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health (JMWH), the study confirms that among low-risk women, planned home births result in low rates of interventions without an increase in adverse outcomes for mothers and babies.

The study looked at nearly 17,000 midwife-assisted births from a dataset provided by the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA). Among the findings were that the cesarean rate among these mothers was just 5.2 percent, a remarkably low rate when compared to the U.S. national average of 31 percent for full-term pregnancies.

Home birth mothers had much lower rates of interventions in labor in general, including episiotomies, Pitocin, and epidurals. That, of course, results in healthier outcomes and easier recovery. Ninety-seven percent of babies were carried to full-term, they weighed an average of eight pounds at birth, and nearly 98 percent were being breastfed at the six-week postpartum visit with their midwife. Only one percent of babies required transfer to the hospital after birth, most for non-urgent conditions. Babies born to low-risk mothers had no higher risk of death in labor or the first few weeks of life than those in comparable studies of similarly low-risk pregnancies.

Says MANA’s Executive Director Geradine Simkins, “This study enables families, providers and policymakers to have a transparent look at the risks and benefits of planned home birth as well as the health benefits of normal physiologic birth … Importantly, this study also sheds light on factors that may increase risk. These findings are consistent with other research on pregnancy complications, but the numbers of these pregnancies were low in the MANA Stats dataset, making it impossible to make clear recommendations.”

Previous studies have relied on birth certificate data, which only capture the final place of birth (regardless of where a woman intended to give birth), while the MANA Stats dataset is based on medical records, and include those who transferred to the hospital during a planned home birth.

This study adds to the large and growing body of research that has found that planned home birth with a midwife is not only safe for babies and mothers with low-risk pregnancies, but results in health and cost benefits that reach far beyond one pregnancy.

You can download the Citizens for Midwifery fact sheet on this study and their insights that will help families understand the implications of the research.

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