Deciding where to have your baby is a big decision. If you’re healthy you have more choice. Today, NICE have drafted an update to guidelines to suggest low risk women should be encouraged to choose a unit led by midwives instead of a hospital labour ward. Research shows it’s just as safe for them.
In fact, the evidence that healthy women should have a choice in their place of birth has never been so strong.
What cheers me about today’s news is that, hopefully, women will be reassured that giving birth is generally safe – I see way too many pregnant women who are scared of giving birth – and that homebirth is safe. I can actually completely understand why a first-time-mum may still prefer to give birth in an obstetric unit but I like the fact that today’s news may steer parents away from thinking that birth is dangerous or requires medical measuring and management. There can be something of a mismatch when science and doctors are involved leading us to lose faith in our bodies.
Hopefully, there’ll be more discussion with caregivers and in the media about why these guidelines have been updated. I’m sure that many first-time mums who wish to birth at home have the (very small) risks highlighted to them – indeed, exaggerated out of proportion in the media often. But, are they also being advised about the potential increased risk of unnecessary medical intervention?
Women planning to give birth in a birth centre or at home will experience substantially less medical intervention, such as caesarean birth, assisted birth with forceps or ventouse or episiotomy than those birthing in an obstetric unit. Some interventions have no or only slight, short-term consequences for mothers and babies. For many though they do impact, both physically and psychologically, ranging in severity and longevity.
Sometimes these interventions are necessary for the health of mum and baby, but sometimes they can be avoided. In antenatal classes I’ve heard parents, when discussing possible interventions, say “well, it’s just one day”. No. It’s not. I speak to women (and men) all the time about their birth experiences and I know it can have an impact on the rest of a woman’s life – and if that’s the case it surely follows that it’ll impact on the whole family – mum, dad, baby and maybe for future generations. It’s really not ‘just one day’.
I guess what’s pleasing me the most is that these updated guidelines will help ensure enough different units for women to be able to choose what’s right for them. We should always be mindful of women’s choices – how fab that it’s agreed that all the choices are safe!