What’s involved in a home birth?

Our award winning midwife shares her tips about having a home delivery

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Can I have a home birth?

Many mums-to-be wrongly assume a home birth isn’t an option with their first baby, and most choose hospital over home. In fact, just 2.7 per cent went for a home birth last year. But if you’ve had a straightforward pregnancy, it’s long been acknowledged that home birth’s a safe option.

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If you have complications like pre-eclampsia, your midwife will advise you to have your baby in hospital. But for low-risk mums-to-be, giving birth in familiar surroundings can help you stay relaxed, which is the key to a positive birth, no matter where you do it.

Ultimately, your midwife can’t stop you from giving birth wherever you decide, so if you feel you’re not getting the support you need, speak to the supervisor at your maternity unit, who can make sure all safe options are explored.

What do I need to do?

If you think you’d like a home birth, you can let your midwife know at any stage of your pregnancy. She can talk you through how it works in your area and explain how to contact the midwife when you go into labour. The NCT runs home birth support groups around the country, so you can always go along and speak to other women who’ve recently had a home birth or are thinking about having one. Having your baby at home is free through the NHS, or you can pay to have an independent midwife look after you, which costs around £3,000.

Who’ll be there?

It’s entirely up to you who you invite, so go for as many, or as few, bystanders as you’ll feel comfortable with. Some women ask their parents and friends to be there, while others will be happy with just their birth partner, and then invite the gang over to help them celebrate after their little one arrives. Your midwife will stay with you once you’re in established labour and then call a second midwife to join her when the birth of your baby’s getting closer.

Can I have pain relief?

For some women, the main disadvantage of a home birth is that pain relief’s limited to gas and air, which takes the edge off your contractions, rather than blocking the pain completely. If you want something stronger, your midwife might give you an injection of pethidine or meptid, although not all midwives feel comfortable about doing this.

Warm water’s fantastic for relaxation and relieving pain, so you might want to have a water birth. You can hire, or buy, a birthing pool from high street stores or online, or even borrow one from a friend.

What if I change my mind?

Saying you want a home birth doesn’t commit you to going through with it when the time comes and you can change your mind at any time. You might like to keep your options open by planning to have your baby at home, and then, when your labour starts, your midwife can pop over to assess you. This saves you hanging around on the labour ward. If you want to continue at home, fine, but if you decide it’s not for you, then you can head to hospital.

What if I need to go to hospital?

Around one in seven women are transferred to hospital during labour or just after giving birth, so don’t worry if this happens to you. The most common reasons are slow progress in labour or the need for pain relief, rather than an emergency. Your midwife will call an ambulance and travel with you to hospital, where she’ll either stay with you or the ward staff will take over your care. Remember that midwives are trained to deal with emergencies, so they’ll bring along any equipment and drugs to help you or your baby if either of you should need it.

What happens after birth?

If you need stitches, one of the midwives should be able to do this at home. They’ll both stay for a couple of hours after the birth to make sure your baby’s feeding, and they’ll help you into the bath.

The midwives then clean up and take their equipment away. They’ll leave you with contact numbers in case you need a midwife to return before the next planned visit, or in case you have any worries. Then it’s a case of relaxing and getting used to being a new mum.

Mum’s story

Kim Steer, 30, from Ipswich, gave birth to her son Reuben, now 7 months, at home because she wanted to be in familiar surroundings.

“People were surprised that I wanted to have my first baby at home, but I wasn’t keen on being in hospital. I’d had an easy pregnancy, so I spoke to my midwife and decided on a water birth. I borrowed a birthing pool and my hubbie Rob and I had a practise run. On the day of the birth I started having twinges at 1pm, so I called Rob at work and then my midwife. I lit candles, put music on and Rob came home at 4pm to set up the pool. An hour later my midwife arrived. I’d done Lazy Daisy active birth classes and the techniques helped me stay relaxed. At one point I was walking around my home munching a banana. I gave birth to Reuben at 9.13pm on a duvet on the floor. I had skin-to-skin contact straight away and Rob had lots of cuddles too. I was so pleased with my home birth and will definitely try to have another one if I can.”

Anne’s top tip

Pack a hospital bag just in case. It’s better to have your things ready to go, so your other half isn’t rummaging around the house at the last minute trying to find all your hospital essentials.”

Did you know…

Mums who give birth at home are 50% less likely to have a forceps or ventouse (suction) delivery, or a caesarean.

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Your home birth checklist

  • You don’t have to buy anything for a home birth but a few bits and pieces can be handy:
  • Old towels to cover up any plastic sheeting you use
  • A hot water bottle to help ease labour pains
  • Antiseptic handwash
  • A tarpaulin or shower curtain to protect your floor
  • Bin bags for tidying up
  • A torch so your midwife can check for any tearing
  • A small mirror to see your baby’s head arriving
  • Tea for the midwives!

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