What’s the difference between homebirth and leaving your newborn home alone?


How would you feel if you heard that a woman left her newborn home alone for several hours to get together with friends?

Shocked? Horrified? Worried for the safety of the baby? Bewildered at the terrible risk the mother is running merely for a few hours of enjoyment? Stunned that anyone could risk the life of their precious baby for an experience?

Why are most people horrified? Because it strikes them as gambling of the most indefensible sort: gambling that the baby will not encounter a life threatening event, like a fire, or choking, or someone invading the house and kidnapping the baby, while you are enjoying yourself.

But let’s be realistic here. What are the chances that your baby will die if you leave him or her for a few hours of adult entertainment? The chances are vanishingly small. How often does the house burn down? How often does a newborn choke in the middle of a nap? How often does someone invade a home to kidnap a child? Not very often at all, yet we still consider it incomprehensibly selfish to abandon a baby just to get out for a little while.

What’s the difference between leaving a newborn home alone for a few hours and choosing homebirth?

Leaving a newborn alone for a few hours is MUCH safer than homebirth. After all, the chance of a life threatening event occurring to a newborn in an average day is tiny. In contrast, the odds of a life threatening event occurring to a newborn during childbirth is orders of magnitude higher. A woman who chooses homebirth is basically gambling that such a life threatening event will not happen to her baby, because if it does, she’s deliberately left the baby alone without the people and equipment who could save him or her. From the medical point of view, the baby is home alone.

This is not merely a theoretical argument. In the past week alone, 3 infants sustained fatal injuries at homebirths (2 I have written about, 1 that I have not yet written about). Those babies would almost certainly be alive if their mothers hadn’t gambled their lives at homebirth.

Yes, gambled is the appropriate word. Their mothers gambled that a life threatening emergency wouldn’t happen during childbirth and they were wrong. They took a chance and their babies died as a result.

So much of homebirth advocacy is devoted to convincing women that the gamble is smaller than it really is:

“Women were designed to give birth.” But that doesn’t decrease the chances that the baby will die in the process.

Birth affirmations are quoted to convince women that they can decrease the risks if they just pretend hard enough.

“The hospital is only 10 minutes away.” Maybe, but then maybe the bar down the street is 10 minutes away, but if you are there partying while your baby is home alone, your baby will still die if he or she experiences a threat to its life while you are away.

Women who choose homebirth are gambling that their babies won’t experience life threatening emergencies during childbirth. Since there is no evidence that the rate of life threatening emergencies is any lower at home than the hospital, they are simply gambling that those life threatening emergencies will occur to someone else’s babies, not theirs. If they win the gamble, it’s awesome. If they lose the gamble, the baby is dead, and they are left with crushing guilt and grief for the rest of their lives.

The bottom line is that if you wouldn’t gamble your baby’s life by leaving him or her alone for a few hours to enjoy yourself, why would you gamble your baby’s life by abandoning him or her to a undereducated, undertrained lay person masquerading as a homebirth “midwife,” and trusting that nothing bad will happen?

The only substantive difference between the two situations is that leaving your newborn home for a few hours so you can go out and party is SAFER than choosing homebirth.