Homebirth experiences more positive than hospital births, study finds

Experiences of home birth are “overwhelmingly more positive than hospital births”, new Irish research shows.

The study, carried out by Trinity College Dublin, also found that in hospital, midwifery-led care scored significantly higher than consultant care.

The online survey of 141 participants is the first study to compare the experiences of those who have given birth in hospital and at home in Ireland. It is also the largest published study on home birth in Ireland in more than 25 years.

Participants were significantly more positive about their experience of home birth compared with their experience of hospital birth across all aspects of care, said lead researcher Soma Gregory, of the School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Women and Birth.org, rated women’s experience of home birth as 9.7 out of 10 compared with an average 5.5 out of 10 for hospital birth.

The researchers also found that in the hospital setting, midwifery-led care was scored significantly higher at 6.4 out of 10 compared with consultant-led care at 4.9 out of 10.

Lead researcher Ms Gregory said: “Better continuity of care, greater bodily integrity and more informed consent during home births were identified by participants as some of the reasons why their home birth experience was more positive than the hospital birth.”

“Many of the women and other birthing people who participated in the study felt interventions routinely offered in hospital were unwanted or unnecessary and would alter the natural course of birth, with a perception that hospital policies and procedures were often at odds with individual birth preferences and aspirations.

“Participants expressed feelings of joy, comfort and safety from being at home and indicated that their family’s presence and involvement created intimate and personal experiences, which were in contrast to experiences described in hospital.”

In Ireland, the majority of births take place in a hospital-setting, either under the care of an obstetrician or a team of midwives.

However, in recent years there has been an increased demand for home birth services, both in Ireland and internationally.

In 2021, 650 planned home births were recorded in Ireland, a 53pc increase compared with 2019. Little is known about those who choose to give birth at home or about their experiences of receiving care from Irish maternity services.

Dr Louise Caffrey, of the School of Social Work and Social Policy, said: “This research underscores the importance of providing maternity care that is respectful and responsive to diverse beliefs and aspirations about childbirth, particularly in the hospital setting. It also clearly illustrates the need for genuine choice within Ireland’s maternity services.”

Dr Deirdre Daly, of the School of Nursing and Midwifery, added: “This study provides important new insights on experiences of home births and hospital births. It furthers our understanding of what women need from our maternity services in order to have lovely, positive experiences.

“It really highlights the critical importance of women’s relationship with midwives and maternity care providers and the importance of having a continuity of care and carers.”