Recently we were told about a couple who lost their baby following a prolonged labour at home. The mother decided early in her pregnancy that she wished to give birth at home and engaged the services of a midwife to assist with the delivery. At some point during the labour, the midwife ascertained there were complications and advised the mother to go to hospital— urgently. The mother refused to attend hospital because she was determined her baby would be born at home.
Tragically, her baby died.
This got us thinking about the complications that can arise during labour and whether planning to deliver your baby at home is ever the safest or most sensible option. That said, complications frequently arise in a hospital setting. All too often we hear stories about deliveries gone wrong, or hospitals failing to provide women and their babies with adequate care.
If hospitals really are the safest place to deliver a baby, why is there an increasing trend for home births in Australia and in developed countries such as the US, UK and in Europe?
When hospitals continue to breach the duty of care owed to mothers and their babies, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that women are exploring alternative options
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) remains firmly opposed to home births and presumably for good reason. A study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 2010 found that while home birth may be best for the mother, it carries three times the risk that her baby will die. In 2014, a further study confirmed a significantly increased total of babies who die during the first 28 days of life after home births. The authors concluded this information must be disclosed by all obstetric practitioners to all pregnant women who express an interest in home birth.
On the other hand, there’s the view of Mary Newburn who is head of research at the UK’s National Childbirth Trust. She told the Sydney Morning Herald that while the comparative evidence on the safety of home births is poor, “there is no evidence that for women with a low risk of complications the likelihood of a baby dying during or shortly after labour is any higher if they plan for a home birth compared with planning a hospital birth”.
Despite some evidence that home births are relatively safe for low-risk mothers, common sense dictates that when an emergency situation arises, urgent care can only be provided in a hospital setting. Obstetricians, fetal monitoring devices and swift surgical action are readily available. Indeed, the RANZCOG statement advises that a decision to give birth at home “must be taken in the knowledge that there are relatively few resources available for the management of sudden unexpected complications that may affect any pregnancy or birth”. It says women contemplating a planned home birth must have accurate information about these risks.
No matter which argument you tend to agree with, at Catherine Henry Lawyers we’ve helped many clients with medical negligence claims arising from mismanaged labour and deliveries in a hospital setting. So, when hospitals continue to breach the duty of care owed to mothers and their babies, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that women are exploring alternative options.