Death rate from homebirth higher than from SIDS


It’s a scourge that haunts the nightmares of new parents and prospective parents.

I’m talking, of course, about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), which takes the lives of approximately 2000 infants each year. SIDS is so frightening because apparently healthy infants die suddenly for no discernible reason.

But the death rate from SIDS is only a fraction of the death rate for American homebirth. The SIDS death rate is 0.4/1000. In contrast, the best data we have (from Oregon in 2012) shows that PLANNED homebirth with a LICENSED homebirth midwife has a death rate of 5.6/1000 approximately 1300% higher. Deaths at homebirth are frightening because apparently healthy infants die during labor or immediately after for reasons that are not discernible to homebirth midwives. The reasons are all too apparent to obstetricians and to the pathologists who perform autopsies on these dead babies.

[pullquote align=”right” color=””]Apparently healthy infants die unexpectedly during homebirth or immediately thereafter.[/pullquote]

Homebirth advocates, to the extent that they acknowledge the increased death rate, dismiss it as trivial (“14X a small number is still a small number”). Yet no one dismisses the SIDS death rate as trivial. Why the difference? It’s because homebirth advocates have difficulty with the concepts of absolute and relative risk. Therefore, comparisons can be helpful in getting homebirth advocates to understand the terrible extent of the problem.

Everyone knows that SIDS is a tragedy. No one tries to dismiss it by claiming that babies who die of SIDS were “meant” to die. Similarly, babies who die at homebirth represent an equally terrible tragedy that is much more likely than the tragedy of SIDS. And the babies who die at homebirth were no more “meant” to die than those who die of SIDS.

We have made remarkable strides in combatting SIDS, even though we don’t yet understand the cause. We’ve found that putting babies to sleep on their backs can cut the rate of SIDS by two thirds. Once we became aware of what we could do to prevent SIDS, we instituted massive public health campaigns to warn every parent and caregiver and thousands of babies are saved each year as a result.

Every study of American homebirth and every dataset, including the data from the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) shows that homebirth with an American homebirth midwife (CPM or LM) has a dramatically higher rate of death than comparable risk hospital birth. In contrast to SIDS, we do understand the reasons for this: American homebirth midwives are counterfeit midwives, laypeople who awarded themselves a credential that doesn’t meet international midwifery standards and is not recognized by the UK, the Netherlands, Australia or any other industrialized country.

Midwives can save lives; counterfeit midwives cannot. They claim to be “experts in normal birth,” but no one needs experts in normal birth. We need birth attendants who can anticipate, prevent and manage complications in childbirth. CPMs and LMs cannot do those things and babies die preventable deaths as a result.

Do you view SIDS is a health problem? Then you ought to consider homebirth a much bigger health problem because it has a death rate 1300% higher than the death rate from SIDS.

Thinking about homebirth? Think again.