By far the most common criticism aimed at home birth is that it is not safe, or not as safe as giving birth in a hospital. But the research contradicts this claim. In a 2011 study, researchers from Oxford University examined more than 64,000 low-risk births (i.e. births in which there were no complications during the pregnancy or leading up to the delivery) and found that, for women having their second or subsequent child especially, hospital birth was not any safer for their babies than home birth. A secondary study of higher risk women showed similar outcomes for babies at home as in hospital, and a higher rate of admission to neonatal units for hospital-born babies.
So, when it comes to birth in the U.K., the hospital setting doesn’t appear to be safer than the home setting. What the hospital does offer, according to the data, is an increased number of unplanned interventions, such as caesareans or the use of forceps during birth. Such interventions can be life-saving in some circumstances, but when they are unplanned and even unnecessary, they can be physically and emotionally traumatizing for women. Fifty-four percent of low-risk first-time mothers who planned a hospital birth had interventions compared with 31 percent who started at home. I say “started” at home because roughly 45 percent of first-time laborers transfer to the hospital during their home births, but this is usually for non-emergency reasons.