EXPECTANT mums whose midwives cannot get insurance cover are giving birth at home without any medical assistance.
A small but growing number of women are choosing to deliver their babies at home without the support of any doctor or midwife, despite the risks posed to newborns by so-called "freebirthing".
The Irish Independent has learned that at least seven babies have been "freeborn" in Ireland this year, as women shun hospitals in favour of enduring labour at home without medical supervision.
A new support group has also been set up to assist women who give birth alone at home.
The Health Service Executive (HSE), which does not provide medical malpractice indemnity for self-employed community midwives (SECMs) if women do not fall within certain guidelines for home births, says it does not record the number of unassisted births.
But new research unveiled at a recent home-birth symposium held at the National Maternity Hospital revealed more than 60 women could not access a home birth this year.
The rise in free births comes after mother-of-two Aja Teehan lost her High Court action seeking orders compelling the HSE to grant her application for a home birth. It also comes weeks ahead of new laws that will make it a criminal offence for midwives to attend home births unless they have professional indemnity insurance.
Another expectant mum has told of her fears that she could be forced by court order to deliver her baby in a hospital setting because the HSE has refused to indemnify a midwife, as her pregnancy was deemed too risky. Jayne Enright, who is due to give birth to her second child next month, said she would have an unassisted birth at home if the HSE refused to provide indemnity for her SECM.
Ms Enright said she would be supported during the birth by a cousin -- a qualified nurse. "She will be there as my friend, not as a medical practitioner."
Colm O'Boyle, assistant professor at the School of Nursing at Trinity College Dublin, carried out a survey which revealed that 62 women were unable to access a home birth -- with seven women opting to birth at home without a midwife or other medical practitioner.
Mr O'Boyle, a midwife with more than 20 years' experience, said around half were ineligible due to exclusion risk criteria. Another 50pc were unable to find a midwife to attend them even though they were low risk.
"Do the HSE really want to support home birth or wipe it out," asked Mr O'Boyle, who is currently interviewing women who have freebirthed.
"Women are not yet being forced to birth in hospital but their choice is not being facilitated in any meaningful way."