FAR fewer pregnant Scots are choosing home births than expectant mothers elsewhere in Britain, according to figures released yesterday.
Just 1.1 per cent of the 54,274 births in Scotland in 2004 took place outside a maternity unit - half the UK average.
This amounts to 609 home births - up slightly from 542 in 2003, according to the campaign group BirthChoiceUK.
The UK average is 2.1 per cent, while in Wales the rate is just over 3 per cent.
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) welcomed the increase in home births in Scotland but said there were still concerns that women were not given a choice.
In many cases a shortage of midwives means NHS boards cannot support women wanting to give birth at home. Also, some GPs are not supportive of women making that choice.
Worries about being a long way from hospital if something goes wrong are also cited as a concern for some women.
The reluctance to choose a home birth comes despite celebrities doing so, including the TV presenter Davina McCall and Scots model Kirsty Hume. McCall, 38, who has announced she is expecting her third child, described the experience of home birth as "truly amazing".
Yesterday's figures showed that home birth rates varied widely across Scotland. The highest was in East Lothian, with 3.2 per cent of babies delivered at home, but the figure was 0.4 per cent in Shetland and 0.2 per cent in East Renfrewshire.
The Clinical Standards for Maternity Services report, published by the NHS in Scotland last year, said women should be given information "to make an informed decision about the place of birth of their baby".
Mary Newburn, NCT head of policy research, said: "It is clear that many women in Scotland still find it difficult to choose a home birth. There is often a succession of barriers in their way."
Ms Newburn said women were often discouraged from thinking they would be able to give birth without an epidural or other hospital interventions.
"Hospital birth has also been widely promoted above home birth for more than 35 years in Scotland, so there is low awareness and realisation that home birth is a real option," she said.
Patricia Purton, director of the Royal College of Midwives in Scotland, said it welcomed the increase in women choosing home births.
"There are a number of areas in Scotland where word is getting around that having a home birth is a good experience.
"This is something that the NHS really needs to build on, because it is about giving women the confidence in the service to allow them to make the best choice for them. That is not to say that all women will be able to have a home birth in all cases."
A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "The important issue is not setting a target but ensuring choice."
Triple advert for taking domestic route
LUCY Burns has given birth to all three of her children at home - the third just last week.
Mrs Burns, 34, said the experience was "wonderful" and that she would not ever consider giving birth in hospital.
"The first time round, I did a lot of reading about it and decided it was safer to be at home than in the hospital," she said.
"I had so much more control at home. You don't get put on this intervention conveyor belt you do in hospital.
"Women can find it difficult to refuse something being done to them in hospital and just tend to toe the line."
Her third child, Orla, was born last Monday, in a birthing pool at Mrs Burns's home in East Lothian.
Her brothers - Morgan, four, and Ruaridh, 27 months - were also born in birthing pools in the comfort of their own home.
Mrs Burns faced opposition from her GP, who was not supportive of home births when she was having her second child.
"People say I am very brave to have a home birth," she said.
"My response is that you are very brave to have a hospital birth."
Mrs Burns said that in recent years she had become more concerned about the risk of contracting the MRSA superbug while in hospital after giving birth.