Does Home Birth Work for First-Time Moms?

A recently published study reported that homebirths had very good outcomes and were safe for mothers — unless, of course, they were first-time mothers.  The study reported higher rates of complications and issues with first-time mothers choosing homebirth over those who had their babies in the hospital.

When I read the study I was glad for the validation that homebirth is safe, and only mildly annoyed that it might discourage mothers.  The news reports in the following weeks, however, have been infuriating.  Rather than letting moms know that homebirths are safe, the only part of the study highlighted has been that it's not safe for first-time moms.

First-Time Moms…


I had a home birth with my first baby and I thank God every day taht I did.  Now don't get me wrong.  I realize that obstetricians are going to say I was lucky and that my baby could have died.  I realize plenty of people are going to say that I'm only me, so I don't count.  And lots of moms will say they had great births at the hospital.

Lucky for me, this is my blog, and I can say what I want to, regardless.

But luck had nothing to do with the fact that I had a great birth with my first baby… at home (and with four babies since then).

There was no “luck of the draw.”  

I do think that first-time moms are more likely to experience exhaustion in labor, fatiuge, and get overwhelmed by the pain.  But I think that happens because they're not quite prepared for the experience.  Birth is really hard work.  Even natural birth is hard work.  It's not always flowering roses and equally flowery language.

Getting Prepared

First-time moms can have a great, safe homebirth.  I think an experienced midwife helps a lot, but unassisted birthers can and do have a great homebirth.

I think it's vitally important that moms be well-nourished.  Despite skeptical obsetricians arguing otherwise, there's no doubt that good nutrition makes a difference in teh health of mom and baby — and in the outcome of birth.  A strong, well-nourished, and healthy woman has a body that performs better in labor, and recovers more quickly.  Issues like blood loss are nowhere near the risk when mothers have an ample blood supply and strong uterine muscles.

Moms need to realize that birth is hard work.  I also think that birth skills make huge difference.  I didn't really have skills with my first baby, and looking back I think things would have gone more smoothly if I had.  My baby didn't want to come down all the way, and I spent a lot of time being scared and working against her efforts to be born.  I pushed for two hours, mostly because I was scared and not sure what to do to help her.

My midwife even encouraged me to try other things, but it wasn't until I was so tired that I just wanted her out that I actually began using some techniques to move her down and out (and out she came, like a rocket, when I did!)

I don't think that the solution to our modern problems with labor and delivery lies with putting first-time moms in the hospital.

But after a decade of advocacy in the natural birth world, I don't think it lies with with midwives and homebirth, either.

Families

It lies with families.

Our responsibility is to educate each other.  In the past our cultures had strong written and oral traditions that guided our young men and women.  Children were taught, either orally, or through written guidelines, how to gain the skills they needed to be men and women.  Girls saw and learned childbirth from their mothers.  In cultures were fathers were included, boys learned how to properly care for pregnant women (often young men were assigned to get special foods for expectant women!)

These families learned skills and passed them down.  That's where the responsibility lies.  We need to teach our children so much, and teaching them what's normal for birth, and what they need to know about having children is important.

Right now, it's our responsibility to learn the skills we were not taught – so that our babies are born healthy and after good, empowered births (be they at home, a birth center, hospital, with a doctor, midwife, or unassisted).  Then we pass that legacy on to those babies.

That's how first-time moms have healthy births.  They don't just have “book knowlege” – they actually have skills and have practiced them.

We don't drive our cars after simply reading about it.  We go out and practice.  We get the information we need about driving, we read about the skills, and then we practice!  Our parents may be slamming on imaginary brakes while we go through that first-time driver period… but we generally get through just fine.

First-time moms can have a great birth experience… anywhere.  Families need to know what to expect, what the professional will be doing, and most importantly, they need to understand their responsibilities and practice for them!

Photo by goldberg

The Pink Kit

About the author 

Kristen

Kristen is childbirth educator, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! She has spent years helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Find her on her website NaturalBirthandBabyCare.com and helping families through her online childbirth class MamaBabyBirthing.com

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  1. I love this. I had a successful birth with a midwife at a freestanding birth center as a first time mom. And if we are blessed with a second child, we will birth at home. I get so tired of people thinking I was ” lucky”. They say that about my nursing relationship with my now 15 month old. I want to scream” it’s not luck! I worked my ass off for all of that!!!”. I got educated, my husband did too. And we educated our families. We payed cash for our birth and support team, instead of our health insurance and any old OB. We knew the birth we wanted and we sought it out. Yes, it was a difficult 23 hours, I worked harder than I ever have in my life. But I never once doubted my body or my baby. I beam with pride about her birthday. That’s the stuff dreams are made of.

    1. Awesome Lyndsay! I love your attitude about this. I think that’s the attitude we as moms and those passionate about giving our babies a natural childbirth need to keep. We need to be willing not only to advocate and pick the right environment, but also to work hard – and to let others know about our work! The “lucky” thing drives me nuts. So glad to see I’m not the only one. Congrats on a great birth (and nursing relationship) with your LO and I hope you are blessed with another when you’re ready!

  2. I agree with this article and Lyndsay! I knew what kind of birth I wanted the first time and I really worked to make it happen. I wanted an intervention free birth, knew it was unlikely with any of the providers in my town, did my research, and had a great unassisted birth at home. For my first birth! I also have a great breastfeeding relationship with my 4 month old that I worked my butt off to get.

    1. I am 7months and interested in an unassisted home birth as well. This is my first, I am eating very healthy, all organic, as well as staying active. Are doctors paid to scare you out home births? They keep reiterating chances. Like, there are chances anytime, anyplace. I just prefer not to bring my baby into the world in a hospital setting. Do you happen to have any useful tips of possible mishaps that might go wrong. I have educated myself alot. Others may have more insight.

      Thank you.

      1. Hi Tiffany. I’m a pretty big believer in being able to choose family birth for your baby. I think birth is designed to work, and when women consciously make the choice to birth unassisted, it usually goes well. There is a possibility of complications, so I think it’s something that each family should research and weigh for itself. Some complications that may be seen are detailed in this article: https://www.naturalbirthandbabycare.com/homebirth/ You may also want to listen to my interview with Dr. Buckley, which talks about the hormones of birth and the process of birthing and how honoring those things helps create safety: https://www.naturalbirthandbabycare.com/ecstatic-birth-sarah-buckley/ Best of luck as you consider your options and make the right choices for you and your baby <3

  3. Thank you for this article! I love reading pieces like this and the comments too! My first time birth experience was awesome- at home, and I wouldn’t choose to do anything different the second time around! My husband & I both educated ourselves with lots of reading,and watching the “business of being born”. I tried to follow the advice of my midwife- exercise at least several times weekly, and eat as healthy as possible. I also went to prenatal yoga, where our yoga teacher taught us breathing exercises and visualizations especially for labor! I tried to only hear & think the positive things about delivery- never paying too much attention to the many negative stories others are only too happy to share! The result- a very relaxed, fast delivery where I was so confident in the care I was receiving from my midwife & husband. I was blown away by the amazing empowerment giving birth naturally brings to mothers- and the bonding that my baby & I have had since day one is priceless. I see other moms who opted to have a c section before they were even due, and who didn’t try to breastfeed, and I feel sorry for them that they didn’t have in their birth experience what I have in mine. I also, am told how lucky I am. I don’t call it luck- I call it bring educated and having the guts to stand up and take what is rightfully mine- an amazing birth experience! I do what I feel is right for me- natural home birth, breastfeeding, co sleeping; it’s not always easy, but the benefits and memories I will always have of this precious time outweigh any pain and trouble.

  4. We birth as we live. Sadly too many women don’t even think about how they are going to birth until they are unhappy with they way the first one went. I too, am eternally grateful that I was able to have a lovely (actually the “easiest” so far) delivery at home with our first child. I was on fire with the joy of young love, and the power of motherhood. I knew complications happen, but I also knew the statistics of anything serious happening for someone in my situation was remarkably lower at home than in the hospital. We have since encounter a few minor complications that could have easily turned into highly invasive deliveries if we had not known any better and had the faith to act on our knowledge.
    I agree that the only real way for the “norm” to change is through getting educated ourselves and then passing that on. I get so frustrated when women come to me for advice, say they absolutely agree, and then do what their mothers tell them to. (Like: “just have that c-section, because if you end up having to have one, you don’t want to be all tired and have to recover from to deliveries, do you?”)

    To date we have had home, hospital and birthing center births. All turned out beautifully and all were exactly where I needed to be at the time. If I had had the hospital birth first, I’m sure it would have looked very different than it did. Even having had a decent hospital experience with a great supportive staff, I hope to never repeat it : )

  5. Hi Lyndsay – thanks for this post. It is unfortunate how often a study comes out and the little pieces are plucked out by opponents and used in the wrong context. It is so important to highlight your experience, and point out that studies are pointing to evidence for home births. Do you have a link to the study you are referencing? I’d be interested in reading about the conditions for the study. If anyone is interested, here’s a recent study done in The Netherlands (who has the highest rate of homebirths in the world approx. 30%) that concludes; ” Home birth, under routine conditions, is generally not associated with increased intrapartum and early neonatal death, yet in subgroups, additional risk cannot be excluded.”

    http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/2011/11000/Planned_Home_Compared_With_Planned_Hospital_Births.11.aspx

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