A new government report released Tuesday states home births in the U.S. have risen to their highest level in about four decades, but still remain only a fraction of all births.
While homes always were the primary birth place, during the 20th century there was a shift to hospital births.
"In 1900, almost all U.S. births occurred outside a hospital; however, the proportion of out-of-hospital births fell to 44 percent by 1940 and to 1 percent by 1969, where it remained through the 1980s," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. The rate dropped slightly in the 1990s, and by 2004, it was 0.87 percent. That's when it started creeping up. In 2011, the CDC reports, it was 1.26 percent, and in 2012, it was 1.36 percent. About 35,000 births that year took place in homes and 16,000 in freestanding birthing centers.
Jude Traylor was born during the snowstorm Sunday at home in Shadyside. He is the second child of Gina and Joel Traylor.
In the Ohio Valley, it used to be that no one knew anyone who had given birth at home - unless it was an unexpectedly quick labor and the mother couldn't get to the hospital in time.
That has changed, too. When a group of local moms was asked on Tuesday if they knew anyone who chose to have home births, several people offered names.
Cortney Reed is one of them. Not only has she had five home births, she has attended about 200 more as a midwife.
"We didn't want the interventions and routine testing that the medical model would put on me. We didn't want to fix something unless it was broken, per se," said the Quaker City resident of her and her husband, Burton's, choice to give birth at home. They hired Rebecca Mullet of McConnelsville in Morgan County, Ohio, to attend the births of their children who range in age from 1 to 10. Reed herself became a midwife five years ago.
The Reeds' perspective is in line with what the CDC experts are saying has led to the increase in home births. According to an Associated Press article, there's been a culture shift, primarily among white women, who question high rates of cesarean sections in hospitals and have come to think of home births with midwives as a preferable alternative.
"They are having conversations about it and influencing each other," said T.J. Mathews, a CDC demographer and co-author of the recent study.
C-section rates in the U.S. have soared to about 1 in 3 in 2011, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In 1970, it was 1 in 20.
Many factors have contributed to the C-section increase, but the rates are of such concern that the ACOG and the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine released new C-section guidelines in this month's issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. One major change is extending the length of time mothers should be allowed to labor before a C-section is considered.
Sarasvati Graves of Wheeling has given birth successfully to two of her three children at home, and she is convinced that she would have had C-sections for all three if she had been in the hospital instead.
Her first child was delivered by C-section, a decision with which she does not agree in retrospect, so when she became pregnant with her second, she began searching for a doctor who would perform a vaginal birth after C-section, or VBAC. At the time, six years ago, she couldn't find one.
"That was when I started to consider home birth," Graves said. Attended by midwife Ellen Gaefke of Washington County, Pa., Graves' second child was born after a 37-hour labor.
"I really believe they would not have let me go that long in the hospital. I got to relax at home while laboring, things like take showers, eat food for energy, move around ... all things not allowed in most hospitals," Graves said. Last year, she delivered a breech birth at home. After 19 hours of labor, she was preparing to transfer to the hospital "to play it safe" when the baby came.
Gina Traylor of Shadyside, like Graves and Reed, chose home birth to "avoid as many interventions as physically possible, since each intervention adds risk to your pregnancy and birth." She gave birth to her second child, son Jude, at home on Sunday. Because of the snowstorm that day, neither her primary midwife, Carol Lilley of Cameron, nor her back-up midwife Reed, made it to the birth. Jude was delivered by her husband, Joel, "about three minutes before Carol walked in the door," Traylor said.
"It was chaotic, but it wasn't a freaky or scary experience, and I was so comfortable being home in my own space," she said. "Only, (next time) we will try a little harder to get the midwife there in time to deliver the baby!"
Reed said the CDC's home birth statistics did not surprise her at all.
"I think more and more women will start to catch on that they can have their babies safely, at home, on their terms."
But is it safe? In the CDC report, authors report that births outside the hospital carried a lower "risk profile," with fewer preterm and low-birth-weight babies than in hospital delivery rooms.
Mathews explained it this way in a WebMD article Tuesday: "If you're planning a home birth, then you're hopefully having a conversation with your physician or your midwife about whether it's a good idea. If there is risk, women seem to be going to the hospital, or giving birth near a hospital."
Indeed, Reed noted that home births are only recommended for women with low-risk pregnancies. If the mother develops preeclampsia, gestational diabetes or other complications, "we recommend giving birth in the hospital so that things can be monitored better," she said.