Mothers-to-be 'scared away from having home births'

THE Royal College of Midwives has warned of a "calculated and concerted backlash" against home births, saying some doctors are too prone to refer women automatically for a hospital delivery.

RCM general secretary Cathy Warwick spoke of the backlash in her New Year message and said she was referring to studies which gave a misleading impression of the relative safety of home and hospital births.

Ms Warwick, from Edinburgh, said only 2.4 per cent of women in the UK give birth at home, and suggested the reason for the low figure was down to women being left scared by academic work and media reports.

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She said: "We are referring mainly to researchers from across the world who seem to be collaborating with the media, publishing studies which suggest home birth is not safe and give the impression that hospital birth, on the other hand, is completely safe.

"We believe people are comparing apples with pears. You cannot compare home birth globally and reach scientific conclusions. Midwives in the UK are highly trained, highly competent and able to relate to obstetricians, who actually support home birth in the UK."

Earlier this year, the Lancet, a leading medical journal, warned that women do not have the right to choose to give birth at home because it may risk the health of their babies.

However, Ms Warwick stressed that the reason most women need to transfer into hospital, despite having chosen to have a home birth, was because of complications which "are not emergencies".

She said it was important that the right women were selected for home birth but, asked if doctors were too keen automatically to refer women for a hospital delivery, she replied: "I think some doctors are too prone to do that. There are a few doctors who just seem to be unprepared to accept the evidence."

Nicola Goodall, founder of the Edinburgh Home Birth Support Group and a pre- natal teacher with the parenting charity the National Childbirth Trust, (NCT) told The Scotsman that she agreed with Ms Warwick's "fair" assessment of the situation nationwide.

She added: "I think there needs to be a huge change so that services and midwives get on board and work with parents, many of whom think it's safer for a birth to take place in a hospital.

"Of the couples who come to our support group, around 70 per cent of them are just booked in for their local hospital without being told about the option of home births."

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Mary Newburn, head of research and information at the NCT, said home births should be "a mainstream option".

She said access for home births was "limited".

"There is no evidence of a reduction in demand, but we know maternity services are additionally stretched due to a rising birth rate and too few midwives," she added.