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Benefits and harms of planned hospital birth compared with planned home birth for low-risk pregnant women

Olsen O, Clausen JA
Published Online: 
25 November 2013

Most pregnancies among healthy women are normal, and most births could take place without unnecessary medical intervention. However, it is not possible to predict with certainty that absolutely no complications will occur in the course of a birth. Thus, in many countries it is believed that the safest option for all women is to give birth at hospital. In a few countries it is believed that as long as the woman is followed during pregnancy and assisted by a midwife during birth, transfer between home and hospital, if needed, is uncomplicated. In these countries home birth is an integrated part of maternity care. It seems increasingly clear that impatience and easy access to many medical procedures at hospital may lead to increased levels of intervention which in turn may lead to new interventions and finally to unnecessary complications. In a planned home birth assisted by an experienced midwife with collaborative medical back up in case transfer should be necessary these drawbacks are avoided while the benefit of access to medical intervention when needed is maintained. Increasingly better observational studies suggest that planned hospital birth is not any safer than planned home birth assisted by an experienced midwife with collaborative medical back up, but may lead to more interventions and more complications. However, there is no strong evidence from randomised trials to favour either planned hospital birth or planned home birth for low-risk pregnant women. Only two very small randomised trials have been performed. Only one trial (involving 11 women) contributed data to the review. They did not allow conclusions to be drawn except that women living in areas where they are not well informed about home birth may welcome ethically well-designed trials that would ensure an informed choice.

This record should be cited as: 
Olsen O, Clausen JA. Planned hospital birth versus planned home birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD000352. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000352.pub2
Assessed as up to date: 
17 April 2012