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Home-birth mums 'put baby at risk'

Women were urged today to think twice before giving birth at home lest they put their baby at risk.

The warning, from leading medical journal The Lancet, follows a US study published in June that suggests home birth can triple the risk of infant death.

Midwives launched a strong attack on the editorial, declaring that childbirth was "not an illness" and insisting home birth was generally safe.

The US scientists, led by Dr Joseph Wax, from Maine Medical Centre in New Hampshire, analysed data on almost 550,000 births in North America, Europe and Australia.

They found that, for healthy women, giving birth at home instead of at hospital doubled the risk of a newborn baby dying.

When infants with congenital defects were excluded from the study, the death rate tripled.

In the UK, a total of 3pc of births take place at home -- three times more than in the US but far fewer than in the Netherlands, where home births make up a third of the total.

The Lancet editorial said the US study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, provided "the strongest evidence so far that home birth can ... be harmful to newborn babies".

It added: "Women have the right to choose how and where to give birth, but they do not have the right to put their baby at risk. There are competing interests that need to be weighed carefully."

Home delivery was an option for mothers with uncomplicated pregnancies "provided they are advised of the risks involved, have one-to-one midwife care (that includes good resuscitation skills and accreditation by a local regulatory body) and live in a location that allows quick access to obstetric care", said The Lancet.

Responding to the editorial, the Royal College of Midwives insisted that for low-risk women home birth was a "safe option" in the UK.


General secretary Cathy Warwick said: "We are deeply disappointed and dismayed that Lancet has published an editorial indicating that women would choose to harm their baby in favour of their own needs by choosing a home birth.

"The editorial also cites research that is incomplete and methodologically flawed. There is no evidence to suggest that hospital births are safer than home births."