Covid fuelled spike in home births: One in 40 new mothers delivered their babies at home in 2020, official data shows
- A total of 14,281 out of 607,000 births — 2.4 per cent — were at home in 2020
- This was the biggest annual jump in home births since records began
- And was the highest proportion of home births recorded in nine years
One in 40 new mothers gave birth at home last year, as Covid led expectant parents to steer clear of hospitals.
Office for National Statistics figures showed the proportion of births taking place in the home hit a nine-year high in 2020.
A total of 14,281 out of 607,469 births in England and Wales — or 2.4 per cent — were recorded as taking place ‘at home’. This was the biggest annual jump recorded since records began, surging from 2.1 per cent in the previous year.
Millions of people avoided using the NHS during the first year of the pandemic.
Statisticians said this could have had an ‘indirect effect on place of birth which may include people choosing to stay away from healthcare settings’.
Charities said although giving birth at home did not appear to pose any direct risk to babies, parents should be aware of the facts.
Office for National Statistics figures showed 2.4 per cent of women gave birth at home during 2020, the highest proportion in nine years
Is it safe to give birth at home?
Expectant mothers can choose whether to give birth in hospital or at home.
The vast majority of mothers opt to have their babies on maternity wards, but an increasing number are choosing home births.
Stillbirth charity Tommy’s says that if a mother has had a child before and the pregnancy is low risk, then giving birth at home is ‘generally a safe and suitable option’.
They said this was because a mother was less likely to need interventions.
And the chance of having a baby with serious medical problems are not affected by where you plan to give birth.
They added there were also practical advantages to giving birth at home, such as more comfortable surroundings.
Mothers should not have a home birth, they said, if they have medical conditions, have had previous problems with pregnancy, developed complications during pregnancy, or are expecting more than one baby.
The ONS figures are compiled from official registrations of births across England and Wales that are reported to the General Register Office.
Normally, they include births up to February the following year because of reporting delays.
But this year they included births up to August, which the ONS said was because 42 per cent of registrations took more than 42 days to process, the legal limit.
The ONS said: ‘The pandemic caused disruption to health services and restrictions on birthing partners.
‘Therefore, Covid could have had an indirect effect on place of birth which may include people choosing to stay away from healthcare settings.’
The report also found mothers had an average age of 30.7 years in 2020, while fathers had an average age of 33.7 years. This was barely a change from previous years.
And the stillbirth rate fell to its lowest level on record, to 3.8 per 1,000 births.
The proportion of births that were preterm fell to 7.4 per cent in 2020, from 7.8 per cent the year before.
Miriam Donaghy, the founder of maternal mental health charity MumsAid, said she was ‘not surprised’ to see there had been a rise in the number of expectant mothers giving birth at home.
She said: ‘Giving birth is always an anxious time but during Covid and with guidance around the rules for maternity wards initially being so restrictive, it has been a particularly challenging time for pregnant women to know what to expect.
‘We know from the mother’s that we’ve seen that in addition to the fear around catching Covid when they go to hospital, there was a lot of fear around not being able to have partners present.
‘Also the level of care mums could expect in light of the news stories about shortages in midwives prompted additional concern.’
Dr Mary Ross-Davie, the director of midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said home birth rates do ‘fluctuate a little’ every year.
She added that midwives would continue to ensure expectant mothers could choose whether to give birth at home or in hospital.
Clea Harmer, the chief executive of Sands — a stillbirth and neonatal death charity — said it was ‘vital’ that women are able to make informed choices about where they wished to give birth.
She said: ‘What is vital is that all pregnant women are able to have open discussions about their birth plan with healthcare professionals and raise any questions or concerns they have.
‘It’s essential that women are able to make informed choices about where they wish to give birth.
‘A homebirth may not be possible for all women, particularly where they have been identified as being at a higher risk due to age, ethnicity or a history of miscarriage or stillbirth.’
She added that evidence showed it was extremely important to have the same maternity team throughout pregnancy and birth to ‘build trust’.