February 1 2012

In the wake of the recent death of a woman in Victoria, many parents around Australia today will be feeling sorrow for Caroline Lovell’s tragic death and sadness for the family she has left behind. Her death following her planned home birth was the first incident of a mother dying related to a home birth in Australia since 1999 as reported by Australian government data.1  “The call for a ban on home births in yesterday’s Herald Sun because of one maternal death since 1999 is completely illogical. Sadly many women died in Australian hospitals in childbirth last year – should we ban hospital births, too?” Michelle Meares, Homebirth Australia spokesperson said.

In Australia our maternal mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world at 8.4 in every 100,000 women. The latest statistics, from 2003-05, show only 65 maternal deaths occurred in Australia. None of these were related to home births.

“Home births have consistently been proved to be safe. Large international studies, including a Dutch study with over 500 000 women show there is no increase in deaths of mothers or babies when women birth at home with a midwife.

“Many studies show women who have a planned home birth have fewer interventions, including epidurals and inductions, and use of forceps, vacuum extraction or caesarean birth. Homebirthing mothers and babies are less likely to experience the complications associated with these procedures, including the significantly increased risk of death and severe complications for both that follows a caesarean birth.

More and more families are choosing to have a home birth in Australia, with a 33 per cent increase between 2004 and 2009. In the US, they’ve just recorded the highest rate of home births ever, with a 30 per cent rise in home births in the same period.

“The choice about where to give birth belongs with a woman and her family. Parents have the right to make decisions about their children — what they eat, where they go to school and also where they give birth. To suggest that right should be taken away is ridiculous in today’s democratic society,” Ms Meares said.

“The private midwives who attend homebirths are highly trained professionals who carry equipment for dealing with medical emergencies. Women who opt to birth at home choose to do so because they’ve decided that it’s the safest place for their babies and themselves. Women choose a home birth because they want to give birth in the comfort of their home, with a midwife they know and trust. They want their families to be with them and they want to be in control of the experience.

“Caroline has been reported as being a homebirth advocate. When there was a threat to homebirths due to the Federal Government’s new midwifery legislation in 2009, Caroline responded the way thousands of women around the country did by sending submissions to a Senate Inquiry which have been reported in the media.

“Despite the Federal Government’s announcements around the National Maternity Services Plan in November 2011, planned homebirth has yet to be properly funded or supported.

“In the UK, where 22% of women reported that they would prefer a homebirth, the government has made a pledge to ensure that all women have the option of a homebirth, Australian women deserve the same”, Ms Meares said.

In 2009, there were 863 planned homebirths, representing 0.3% of all women who gave birth. The average age of women who choose a homebirth is 31.7 years, 75% are having their second or subsequent baby and 58.6% of homebirths occur in major cities. According to Dr Sarah Buckley, mother of four homeborn children, former GP and now writer on pregnancy, birth and parenting:  “Homebirth is a safe option with significant advantages for mothers and babies. The extremely low need for intervention that happens when women feel private and safe in their own home, is reflected in lower rates of complications, including prematurity, low birth weight, infections, lacerations, post-partum haemorrhage and retained placenta, International studies support the safety of planned homebirth for healthy mothers and babies.”

(Report on Maternal Deaths in Australia, 1997-1999.

(Report on Maternal Deaths in Australia, 2003-2005.