Skip to main content

Home-births Can Result in Future Disability to the Child

  • Synopsis: Published: 2014-01-24 - Homebirth may expose the child to unreasonable risk of potentially life changing disability for benefits that may be comparatively small - BMJ-British Medical Journal (Stephanie Burns - - Ph. 44-020-738-36920).
Defined as an attended or an unattended childbirth in a non-clinical setting, typically using natural childbirth methods, that takes place in a residence rather than in a hospital or a birth center, and usually attended by a midwife or lay attendant with expertise in managing home births. Women who are unassisted or only attended by a lay person, perhaps their spouse, family, friend, or a non-professional birth attendant, are sometimes called free-births.

Main Document

Quote: "When a baby is injured during childbirth, the full extent of the harm is often not obvious until years later..."

Risk of future disability to child should 'weigh heavily' in birthplace decisions - Safety of home-birth has focused on risk of death; moms-to-be poorly informed of other issues.

The risk of future long term disability to the child should "weigh heavily" in decisions about whether to give birth at home or in hospital, argue leading ethicists in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Women should, of course, be free to choose where they want to give birth, insist Oxford University ethicist Professor Julian Savulescu and obstetrician and gynecologist Associate Professor Lachlan de Crespigny of the University of Melbourne.

But to date, the arguments around the safety of home-birth have focused on the risk of death, ignoring the possibility of long term disability to the future child an equally relevant consideration, they argue.

As a result, women and their partners may be poorly informed of all the potential risks they could be taking by choosing a home-birth, they say.

There is comparatively little evidence on the long term outcomes of children born at home. And this is a deficit that needs to be addressed, to ensure that both women and their doctors are better informed, argue both authors in an accompanying podcast.

But the available research indicates that there are "a number of reasons to be concerned," they say in the podcast, as they point to increased risks of death, disability, and admission to neonatal intensive care compared with hospital births.

If complications arise during birth, it is vital that mother and baby can access immediate medical expertise to ensure the long term wellbeing of both, they say.

Even small delays can be crucial and have lifelong implications. And inevitably, there will be few resources available to pick up and manage these complications at home, they point out.

"When a baby is injured during childbirth, the full extent of the harm is often not obvious until years later," they warn, adding: "Actions taken today that cause harm in the future are as wrong as if that harm were realized today."

The authors acknowledge that hospital births are not without their own risks, and that home-birth is often seen as a more natural and less interventionist alternative.

"However, labor and delivery is a time of high risk, and home-birth may expose the future child to unreasonable risk of potentially life-changing disability for benefits that may be comparatively small," they argue.

In the podcast, Professor Savulescu argues strongly that hospitals need to do far more to make their environments more attractive and acceptable to women, while healthcare professionals should ensure that mums to be are fully informed of the potential risks of a home-birth.

Related Information:

  1. Disabled World: Female Health Conditions Information for Women
  2. The Endocrine Society (Jun 07, 2011). Preventing Excess Weight Gain During Pregnancy
  3. The Research Council of Norway (Mar 12, 2013). Taking Folic Acid Early in Pregnancy Lowers Risk of Autism

Information from our Pregnancy: Symptoms, Trimesters & Information section - (Full List).

Submit event details, disability news, and assistive technology products for publishing on Disabled World

Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.

Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.

List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.

Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be. Also see information on blood group types and compatibility.

  1. Majority in Favor of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Screening
  2. When the Spinal Cord Takes Charge of Information Related to Movement
  3. Sign Language Comparative List of Astronomical Words
  4. Israeli President Honors Special Education Teachers


Errors: Disabled World is an independent website, your assistance in reporting outdated or inaccurate information is appreciated. If you find an error please let us know.

Disclaimer: Content on Disabled World is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. See our Terms of Service for more information.