Why Are Home Births Suddenly So Popular?

Despite skepticism from the medical establishment, more and more women are opting for home births.  Although home births declined from 1990 to 2004, over the subsequent four years, the rate of home births rose by an astounding 20 percent.  The increase is due to what experts identify as a natural birth subculture among white women who want more control over the birth experience.  The results of the CDC’s study were highly racialized, with 1 in 98 white women having babies at home in 2008, compared to 1 in 357 black women and 1 in 500 Hispanic women.

These statistics are particularly interesting because they show that the new popularity of home birth among a small subculture can have a significant influence on the numbers.  While home births are appealing because they’re less expensive, especially for the uninsured, they’re also safer for low-risk births than going to a hospital.  Women who want a more individualized experience with fewer medical interventions are increasingly opting for birth at home, under a midwife’s care.  These women are, for the most part, affluent and well-educated, and informed about the potential benefits of home birth.  This signals a changing perception of what, before, seemed like an unsafe, illogical decision.

Medical anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd explained, “At first, in the 1970s, it was largely a hippie, countercultural thing to give birth outside of the hospital. Over the years, as the formerly `lay’ midwives have become far more sophisticated, so has their clientele.

Authorities like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warn that home birth can be dangerous, especially in high-risk situations.  But midwives are also concerned about the skyrocketing cesarean section rate in the United States, saying that this is one compelling reason to give birth outside a hospital, where women may be given a dangerous and unnecessary surgical procedure.

The “hipness” of home birth was signaled in 2008 by the release of The Business of Being Born, a documentary produced by Ricki Lake, which extolled the virtues of home birth.  The film was polemical, demanding, “Should most births be viewed as a natural life process, or should every delivery be treated as a potentially catastrophic medical emergency?”  But it was also popular.  And although it was released at the end of the period from which these statistics were taken, it represents the possibility that home birth, once so controversial, could start to be seen as mainstream.

Women have home births for a wide variety of reasons.  Some react to bad hospital experiences and opt for home births with later children; others respond to cost; others want, in the words of one woman with MS who chose home birth, to “surround myself with people who would support me as a birthing mother, rather than view me as a…patient who would be a liability in need of interventions at every turn.”

Most studies of home birth are too small to accurately assess safety, so more research may be required before women can make a truly balanced decision about whether or not to have a home birth.  And of course, there are many gradients between home birth and overmedicalized hospital birth.  Women can give birth with midwives in hospitals, or in birthing centers.  But as home birth becomes more accepted, the more options women have.  Because of opposition from the medical establishment, midwives are having trouble creating a place for themselves as legitimate medical figures.  But one thing’s for sure: women deserve the ability to make the choice about what kind of birth they want, and having more options on the table can only be a good thing.

Photo from o5com via flickr


Susan&Timothy Scholl
Susan Scholl6 years ago

My daughter-in-law and son have had all 6 children at home; baby 7 is due any day this will also be a home birth. Some babys were big, she had long long labors with the 1st =& 2nd baby if she were in a hospital they would have sectioned her. All the babies were healthy and are doing fine today

Erin L.
Erin L.7 years ago

I'm saddened that anybody would vote anything other than YES in the poll. Why should women be denied access to ANY information from which to make an informed decision?

Lioralourie P.
LOURIE P7 years ago

good books which will really shed light on the topic:

BIRTH: The surprising history of how we are born

BORN IN THE USA (by Marsden Wagner)
p.s. for fifteen years Dr. Wagner was director of Women's and Children's Health in the World Health Organization; an outspoken for the midwifery model of birth; also was interviewed in The Business of Being Born)

PUSHED: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care

Lioralourie P.
LOURIE P7 years ago

I had one Sh*tty hospital birth, then studied a LOT and had a planned unassisted home birth. And then another home birth (assisted, because there were indications that caution was prudent).

My second two births were absolutely wonderful. Really pleasant, and I was fully functional and energetic from about 5 minutes after the birth onward. I highly recommend it. And my favorite birth film ever, ever, is Birth As We Know It. And my favorite book of all time is Birthing From Within tied with, well, anything by Ina May Gaskin. Also check out the mothering.com natural family living community forums.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G7 years ago

It's a good natural trend.

Ruth R.
Ruth R7 years ago

Yes, more women should be informed about what is realistic a home birth -- when a home birth will/would and could work out fine.

Ben Klinkovsky
Ben Klinkovsky7 years ago

I am shocked by the comment that O.B. nurses are sadistic. Where are the demographics for that one!!! I loved my O.B. time and so did every other nurse on any unit where I had the privilege to work. What concerns me that these corkers come out on a web site that extolls compassion,love and caring for all beings. I"ve seen some careless incidents and some downright cruel ones in a large prison, But O.B. is joyful and fun and thats why nurses go into it.

Carol K.
Carol K7 years ago

Hospitals are getting meaner to patients than ever before. They are unsupportive to people with illness quite frequently. They are also dangerous with antibiotic-resistant bacteria running rampant. Birth is a joyous time and the minority are complicated. It is a time for family involvement and loving surroundings. The drive-through birth practices in US are dangerous and disrespectful. If women take back the control of giving birth it can only be positive for all concerned.OB's and OB nurses are known to be sadistic in many hospitals. Who needs meanness and ego at the most beautiful of all human experiences?

Maresa Marangoni
Maresa Marangoni7 years ago

I also believe that women should take birthing back int their hands... Hospitals are great when you need them 'cause you're sick, but they have become inappropiriate places to give birth. The way forward is probably places that are specialiesed in delivering babies, woman and child- centered, with emergency procedures at hand when needed.

Bob Sperlazzo
Robert Sperlazzo7 years ago

Suddenly? It has never gone away in thousands of years. The recent "skepticism from the medical establishment" is only a reaction to their loss of income as a result. We had all five of our kids at home. And we both participated in the births. Hospitals are cesspools for death and disease. And at home, you don't have the automatic cutting and the drugs (too potent for the tiny baby's body), all for the convenience of the doctors. Plus, you get to keep your baby with you from day one. Natural home birth -- it's been a proven method for thousands of years.