Yesterday, the influential American Academy of Pediatrics issued, for the first time, a set of guidelines related to planned home births, a hotly debated practice (though not so much among women who do it) that has increased slightly in the past few years, mainly among highly educated white women.
Specifically, the guidelines are on caring for infants born via planned delivery at home. The first line of the guidelines underscores the fact that the new statement is hardly radical:
The American Academy of Pediatrics concurs with the recent statement of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists affirming that hospitals and birthing centers are the safest settings for birth in the United States while respecting the right of women to make a medically informed decision about delivery.
Time Healthland reiterates that the guidelines, published in the journal Pediatrics yesterday, are pretty straightforward, including these recommendations:
“…at least one person at the birth should be responsible for tending to the newborn infant; that person should also be trained in infant CPR. Medical equipment should be tested before the delivery. A phone line should be available; while you’re at it, check the weather forecast too, in case complications arise and a trip to the hospital is necessary. In case of emergency, have a plan to transfer the laboring mom to a hospital. And do all the stuff that nurses do in the hospital to brand-new babies: monitor their temperature and heart rates, keep them warm and cozy, administer vitamin K and heel-prick newborn screening tests that are sent to outside labs for processing, among other things.
Still, Time says:
More controversial is the academy’s advice that pediatricians endorse only midwives who are trained and cleared by the American Midwifery Certification Board. Midwives accredited by this board typically attend deliveries at hospitals and birthing centers. That position has upset certified professional midwives, who deliver the majority of babies born at home in this country but are accredited by a different body — the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM).
Robin Hutson, executive director of the nonprofit Foundation for the Advancement of Midwifery, based in Boston, says these guidelines are only useful if consumers also have access to data on the risks of giving birth in other settings. In a hospital, for instance, Hutson notes there’s a higher likelihood of infections, unnecessary use of medical interventions and prolonged separation of mother and baby which can deter breast-feeding. “No method of birth is risk free,” Hutson says.
One local doula told me that even though the statement is certainly not a full-blown endorsement of home birth, just the fact that the AAP put it out somehow offers the practice added legitimacy in mainstream circles.
Of course it’s also pragmatic for the AAP to acknowledge that all babies, regardless of where they’re born, deserve the same level of care, particularly since home birth has been undergoing a mini-resurgence. (It ticked up a bit after actress and home-birth advocate Ricki Lake gave birth in a bathtub and then produced the film, The Business of Being Born.)
As we reported in 2011:
After a 15-year decline, home births in the U.S. rose 20 percent between 2004-2008. Though the actual numbers remain tiny — out of about 4 million births, 28,357 happened at home in 2008 — the reversal of the long downward trend is notable. So are the demographics: much of the increase was driven by highly educated white women.