On the surface, giving birth at home sounds idyllic. You’re in the comfort of your own space, it’s far more private than a hospital ward, and your kettle is ready and waiting to produce a post-birth cuppa.
But labour is unpredictable. For some women, it can be seamless and over in a matter of hours. For others, it can be a taxing experience, the drama of which might be exacerbated without the provisions of a ward.
Hospital births might be viewed as more traditional, but home births are becoming an increasingly popular option for women, with figures steadily rising in recent years.
They’ve become a timely talking point too, with Stacey Solomon sharing her home birth journey on Instagram after she welcomed her daughter on Tuesday.
The Loose Women panellist posted a series of Instagram Stories detailing the birth, which took place on her 32nd birthday, revealing that she had gone to the hospital in the morning but was sent home because her contractions “weren’t too strong”.
“But she decided she was ready to meet us immediately,” wrote Solomon, adding: “So our community midwives came straight over with all the gas and air.” She then shared a black and white photograph of her and fiance Joe Swash laying in their bed with their new daughter, whose name has not yet been revealed.
It was rumoured in 2019 that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had planned a home birth to welcome their first child, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. However, she gave birth in Portland Hospital in London instead.
But what is it actually like to give birth at home? What are the risks compared to a hospital birth? Can you really be sat upright and sipping on a glass of champagne 20 minutes later? And what happens when your husband ends up having to be the one to deliver your baby?
We spoke to seven women to find out what it’s really like to give birth at home.
Poppy Mardall, 35, founder and director, Poppy’s Funerals
‘The home birth got us off to an empowered, confident, happy start’
“We never would have considered a home birth if a midwife, Gloria, hadn’t casually mentioned it as a choice during an early antenatal appointment. The moment she walked through the front door of our home to tell us more, we were sold. Having my baby at home just made so much sense from the beginning. In the run-up to the birth I felt we had the best possible care delivered by the loveliest people. And each time we met we had tea and cake in the comfort of my house.
“When I went into labour, a midwife named Frances arrived first and Gloria walked through the door shortly afterwards. I loved the role my husband played – he ended up catching our daughter when she was born. That night we got into our own bed with our daughter by our side. Those first few weeks of parenting were both wonderful and tough but I think the home birth got us off to an empowered, confident, happy start.”
Helen Nurse, 40, co-founder of children’s events and entertainment business, Wonder Adventures
‘My husband had to deliver my baby’
“I had my first baby at home in July 2007; I chose to have him at home because I had a low-risk pregnancy and had read a lot about positive home birth experiences. I feel that hospitals are for sick people and having a baby doesn’t necessarily mean you are sick. The midwives were really supportive and even stressed how quickly they would get me to hospital if there were complications. I knew I would be far more relaxed and in a more positive frame of mind being at home. The experience was fantastic. I had a birthing pool set up in the living room and George was delivered in the water. Being able to have a bath and get into my own bed straight afterwards was such a blessed thing. The midwife even brought me tea and toast.
“I think the best thing was then being able to all be together, in our bed, the three of us as our new family unit for the first 24 hours. Because of my positive experience with George, I chose to have my second baby at home. But it was quite a different experience. After having been in labour for six hours, the midwife said I was moving slowly and would probably have to come into hospital, but to wait until the contractions advanced. Her shift was ending so she left, at which point my contractions suddenly stepped up and literally a minute later I could feel the baby was coming.
“My husband got on the phone to the labour ward, but I cried at him that the baby was coming. He rang 999 and the emergency medical staff talked him through what to do. A minute later, he delivered Daisy. The ambulance arrived a moment later. We somehow ended up having a repeat scenario with my third child, who I also chose to have at home. The midwife left after being with me for a few hours, saying that the progress was slow and she thought I would have to go into hospital. Twenty minutes after she left, I was suddenly bearing down with the need to push. I said to my husband, ‘It’s happening again.’ He successfully delivered Charlie, but when he came out, he was very blue and limp and not crying. [Again] 999 were on the line and were talking my husband through what to do. There was a full minute when none of us knew if Charlie was going to make it. I held him on my chest and we wrapped warm towels around him on me. The midwife arrived about three minutes later, gently took Charlie and stimulated him, at which point he started to cry and that noise filled my heart – he was ok.
“I feel very blessed to have had such magical birthing experiences with all three of the children, even if two of them were a bit hairy. I couldn’t have imagined being in the hospital. I definitely wouldn’t have been as relaxed or trusted my body as much.”
Michelle Gyimah, 39, gender pay gaps consultant at Equality Pays
‘So many thoughts were running through my head about whether this baby was going to survive’
“I opted for a home birth for both of my children. My mum is in midwife in London, but I’ve always felt the hospitals are places where people go when they’re sick to be treated. My view has always been that as long as my pregnancy is healthy with no complications then I would much prefer to be at home to have my baby.
“I’m somebody that really values home comforts. The only real issue with home births for me was around pain relief, because it’s limited to gas and air or codeine. So I prepared myself by reading books and articles and joined in conversations with others around their home births. I tried to adopt the mindset of remembering that at any point if I thought that it was getting too much I could always ask to go into hospital.
“For my first baby I was in labour for quite a long time and ended up having to go to hospital for the birth. But I did end up having my second baby at home, though it was a much harder birth. There was a very frantic moment when the midwife told my partner to call an ambulance and she was practically shouting at them that they had to come now. It all happened so fast and so many thoughts were running through my head about whether this baby was going to survive. But my midwife was amazing she was really quick thinking, kept talking to me and she asked me if I was ready to push, she measured me again and I was suddenly fully dilated so I just went for it. About 13 minutes later my daughter was born. The ambulance arrived afterwards, and we then had to go into hospital as she was covered in meconium (infant faeces) when she came out.
“Even though it was really touch and go at the end, I’m so glad that I had the home birth because it meant I was in my comfort zone. There is something really magical about being able to share such an intimate moment with a handful of people in your own home.”
Sara Keel, 48, founder of Babycup
‘It’s important to be where you would feel most happy’
“Our three daughters were all born at home. I had been attending active birth classes, learning breathing techniques and invaluable tips such as ‘during contractions, moo like a cow’ (really!). I had attended a local NCT class. My pelvis was aligned and comfortable thanks to cranial chiropractic treatment from my husband, Julian, a practitioner highly experienced in antenatal care. I was feeling good and was learning a lot about the benefits to labour of being happy and in a calm environment. So when I read somewhere: ‘You’re not unwell, you’re having a baby,’ it made me realise home would be the natural place to choose.
“We hired a birth pool and a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine for pain relief. Two of my births were with midwives I’d met already. One was with midwives I had never met before, which was a shame as I think that does make a difference. One of my labours was when my husband had been unwell in bed for a week. Thank goodness we weren’t going to hospital as I don’t think they would have let him in. Being at home was a godsend.
“I was so happy with the decision to have home births. It was very special, I was able to be in a cosy, cocoon of calm. That’s not to say it wasn’t painful, but the pain was fleeting. After the births, my husband made tea and toast for the midwives and me. I could take a shower and our newly extended family could snuggle up in bed. I’d really recommend a home birth.”
Jo O’Connell, 39, owner of JellyRock PR
‘My husband was running around filling saucepans up to keep the birthing pool heated’
“I always thought that I would want the whole run of painkillers so that I wouldn’t feel any pain. But the further into the pregnancy I got, the more natural I wanted it.
“The turning point was when I started to read Hypnobirthing – The Mongan Method. I found an organisation where you could hire birth pools for the six weeks around your due date. I collected it in the car and had a great chat with a midwife who had a passion for home births. She really reassured me that it was a great option.
“I had both my first and second child at home, each with two midwives present talking me through the process while my husband was running around filling saucepans up to keep the pool heated. It meant that I had privacy to be as noisy as I liked without worrying about disturbing anyone. I was then able to recover far quicker than if I’d been in a hospital. I could sleep in my own bed, rather than an overheated, noisy ward. With my second born, I had no tearing at all and was able to go out for a 15-mile bike ride seven days later.
“I’ve recently learned that Bournemouth Hospital is closing down its home birth unit, which is a real shame. I think it’s a big step in the wrong direction. If women only had the self-confidence to know that they can have their babies naturally, I believe that some of their birth experiences would be far nicer.”
Charlotte Daley, 35, director of Blossom & Bloom PR
‘I felt like a goddess’
“I was significantly affected by the lack of care I received with my first daughter, who I had in hospital. So I decided to have my second at home. I got a pool and pumped it up in my living room and put up fairy lights. I gave birth on my own under the glow of the lights to a 9lb 5oz baby girl with my doula quietly knitting on my sofa.
“The midwives arrived at the very last minute to provide the much needed gas and air. Afterwards, I sat on my sofa with my baby and I had toast. I read the news in bed shortly after the birth and went to sleep with my partner, my eldest and my baby. It was such a stark contrast to my first birth, where I had an epidural, and stitches in my nether regions.
“But giving birth at home was amazing for me, I felt like a goddess. Home birth is a safe, beautiful, empowering thing that I could only wish all mothers got the chance to experience.”
Samantha Stonehouse, 38, PR director
‘I just decided I was going to stay at home and see what happened’
“I decided to have my second baby at home on a whim. My waters broke at 6am and at 8am we called our midwife who said we needed to decide what we wanted to do as this baby was on its way. I could see the apprehension in my husband’s face, but I had so much trust in my midwife that I just decided I was going to stay at home and see what happened.
“We based ourselves in the living room, on the floor and at 11.40am, Poppy was born. I went through an entire canister of gas. My midwife called for a second one, but by the time it arrived at the house, I had already delivered our baby and was sat on the sofa with a glass of champagne in hand. Thirty minutes later I had a bath, assisted by our midwife, got dressed in clean clothes and was back in our bed. By 5pm, our then two-year-old returned home from nursery and I just remember her giving Poppy a little kiss on her head. I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about the experience.”
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