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Doctors claim hospital births are better for babies

A new study shows that babies whose mothers planned their birth to take place outside a hospital may be at increased risk of death. But how significant is that increased risk?

While most women in the U.S. plan for a hospital birth, some mothers are trending away from the sterile hallways of their local medical facilities to labor and deliver in the comfort of a birthing center — or their own homes. While more research shows that this often has a better outcome for moms, who often wish to avoid unnecessary medical interventions, a new study sheds some light on how home birthing or birthing in a birthing center affects babies.

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The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine comes out of Oregon, where changes were recently made to birth certificates. Mothers are now required to fill out a new blank on the form — now they note where they had intended to give birth in addition to where the birth actually took place. This new data allowed researchers to tally up around 75,000 women who had intended to birth at home or at a birthing center, and gather stats on the outcome of those births.

On the surface, the results seem pretty grim. They noted that babies who are born to moms who intended to birth outside a hospital (whether at a birth center or at home) were twice as likely to die as their peers who had a planned hospital birth.

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However eager one might be to jump to conclusions, moms should carefully weigh this data as they decide where to birth their babies. To truly understand the increased risk, you must take into account the actual numbers — out of every 1,000 babies whose mothers planned to deliver at home or at a birthing center, 3.9 died just before, during or within the month after labor, and in comparison, 1.8 out of every 1,000 babies died when moms planned for a hospital birth. This represents an overall increased incidence of only 0.21 percent, which is not insignificant, but the overall risk of adverse outcomes in births that take place outside the hospital (in other words, a 0.39 percent of neonatal death) is very, very low.

Also, the study highlighted that the mothers-to-be benefited from birthing outside a hospital, as they ran into fewer medical interventions and far fewer C-sections, which have their own risks in and of themselves — including death (while conversely, interventions can and do save the lives of babies and their moms). This study also included moms who wanted a home birth but were transferred to the hospital when troubles arose, moms who didn’t have any health care at all during the course of their pregnancies and moms who gave birth without a medical attendant on hand (whether on purpose or not).

Choosing where to have a baby is often a simple choice — you see your OB-GYN, you preregister at the hospital, and that’s that. Some moms-to-be, though, spend time weighing the benefits with any risks, and the choice isn’t quite so clear.

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So many factors come into play when you have a home birth or check into a birth center, and of course, we all want healthy babies at the end, but don’t forget, a mother’s health is important too.

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