Home Truths: Why an increasing number of women are opting for home births
The number of mothers choosing home births is on the rise and it's a safe option for low-risk, healthy mothers, writes Arlene Harris
For most pregnant women in Ireland, the first step when drawing up a birth plan is which hospital they would like to deliver their baby in. But while home births are not commonplace, numbers are on the rise and currently about 0.2pc of women are choosing to welcome their child into the world in their own homes.
Maria Ruiz Flynn from Wexford has three children - Samuel (6), Willow (2), and Jason (6 months). While she had her first two in hospital, she and her partner Robbie were determined that their third son would be born at 'home' and on March 10, 2015, he arrived in her mother's house where he was introduced to the entire family within half an hour of his delivery.
"I planned on giving birth in my house but late into my third trimester I discovered it wasn't possible so we made arrangements for the delivery to take place at my mother's house with an independent midwife from Carlow," she says. "After my waters broke, I began to have surges and we headed over to mam's house at around 2am with Samuel and Willow chatting away in the back of the car.
"When we arrived, the surges were close together and slightly more intense and when Nuria, the midwife, examined me I was about 4cm dilated and coping well. I walked up and down the hall and squatted against the bath and sink before sitting into the birthing pool and after another surge, my body began to push and within three surges Jason's head was born and then his beautiful body. It was amazing and such a relief after the pressure. It was all very calm and I got out and lay on the couch where Nuria handed me Jason, we cuddled and he latched on and then Rob went to get my mam, Samuel and Willow - it was lovely to have my children there and for them to see how normal birth could be."
Comparing her different experiences, Maria is delighted she had her third child in a home environment and says it is a completely natural thing to do.
"I'm so glad I had my baby at home, surrounded by people who loved me, who were all focused on the birth of my baby and on the process I was going through," she says. "I had the freedom to do what my body wanted to do instinctively and didn't need to concentrate on my surroundings or on people I didn't know - I was comfortable and confident and would definitely recommend it.
"I have been told that I'm very 'brave', but what's brave about being with your family, in the comfort of familiar surroundings with professionals whose only concern is you and your baby. I went to bed that night with my precious newborn and Robbie, and it was so special. My older children have their story of Jason's birth too as they were a big part of it and they feel as if it was a family event."
Juliana Kadlecova who lives in Wicklow with her husband Ladislav gave birth to her first daughter Slavomira in hospital in her homeland of Slovakia. She wanted her second daughter Miroslava to be born at home and says it was a truly wonderful experience.
"Home births are not permitted in Slovakia so when we were expecting Miroslava we planned the whole event and booked a wonderful midwife, Julie, right at the beginning of my pregnancy," she says.
"Giving birth at home was one of my best decisions I have ever made - it was a truly life-changing experience and really helped me to welcome our second child in this world. We enjoyed every second, cherished our privacy and appreciated the care our midwife provided."
The mother-of-two says the care she received was second-to-none and she would encourage expectant mothers to look into the option of home-birthing.
"After my midwife's last visit, I actually cried because I felt so secure with her around and she truly became a family member after the home birth," she admits. "So I wish every healthy woman could have a choice to decide where to give birth, whether in hospital, birth centre or at home if she feels like it and most of all, be allowed to labour in an environment which is safe for her and her new baby."
Midwife and Gentlebirth facilitator Tracy Donegan says home birth figures are on the rise as research has shown this to be another reliable option.
"Home birth in Ireland is on the increase. At the moment it's about 0.2pc as more parents are trading in the overstretched labour wards for a more relaxed, birth experience," she says. Donegan says it is advisable for home-birthing women to call the midwife as soon as contractions begin in order to get the care-process started.
"Inform your midwife as soon as you think labour has started so she can advise the second midwife who will also be in attendance," she says. "She will encourage you to rest, eat and do whatever helps you feel comfortable. Epidurals are not available at home but the next best thing is having access to a labour pool and practising mental as well as physical comfort measures during your pregnancy. One-to-one care by your midwife means she has no other mums to take care of and in the event of her having any concerns for your well-being or the well-being of your baby, she will arrange a transfer to the closest maternity unit. Most hospital transfers happen not because of problems but because of exhaustion - so take your midwife's advice and rest as long as you can."
Margaret Hanahoe is the Assistant Director of Midwifery at the National Maternity Hospital. She says anyone considering a home birth should begin researching before becoming pregnant as facilities vary depending on location.
"You should investigate what services are in your area, for example in Waterford and Dublin South there are hospitals which offer a home birth service and Cork have a well-planned home birth service, but other areas not so," she says.
Margaret Hanahoe who has co-written two maternity e-books - Bump to Birth to Baby and After Birth - says a number of factors to consider are:
● Find out if there is a self-employed midwife living locally
● Book a midwife early as they get booked out very quickly
● Make sure you are low-risk and suitable for a home birth
● Research local hospitals in case you need to be transferred and get a realistic idea of the chances of transfer
● Look at alternative methods of pain relief and prepare during the pregnancy. Hypnobirthing, TENS machines or birth pools can be very helpful
● Discuss your thoughts of a home birth with your partner and recruit family members if they are supportive of your plans.
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