Home births in the US have increased during the pandemic, but are still rare

Domestic births in the United States rose slightly in the second year of the pandemic, reaching the highest level in decades, according to a government report released Thursday.

Among nearly 4 million births in 2021, nearly 52,000 occurred at home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. It is up about 12% from 2020, after a 22% increase from 2019 to 2020.

Increases were seen across races and ethnicities, although home births were much less common among Hispanic women than others.

Elizabeth Gregory, the report’s lead author, said the reasons for the increases are unknown, but occurred when COVID-19 rates were high and vaccinations were unavailable or not widely used. Other reports have shown that many people avoided hospital and doctor visits early in the pandemic.

Other possible reasons: The women didn’t have health insurance or lived far from a hospital and couldn’t get there in time. Previous research suggests that around 1 in 4 home births are unplanned.

Jade Godbolt, of Dallas, had her second child at a birthing center in 2021, in part to avoid the hospital risks of COVID-19 and to experience a more natural environment. The experience went so well that she and her husband chose to give birth at home to their third child, who was born last month. They had been working with a midwife but the labor went so fast that the baby arrived before she arrived.

Godbolt, a 31-year-old online beauty and lifestyle content creator, says there have been no complications and that she and her son are doing well.

“I believed my body could do what it was made to do and I wanted to be in the comfort of my own home to do it,” she said.

Home births and other out-of-hospital births have been on the rise since about 2004, when they numbered nearly 36,000, other data show. The increase coincided with an increase in outpatient delivery centers.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that while home births typically involve fewer medical procedures than hospital births, they are riskier. It advises against home births for certain situations, including multiple births and among women who have previously given birth via caesarean section.

“Accredited hospitals and birth centers are the safest places to give birth, because while serious complications associated with labor and delivery are rare, they can be catastrophic,” said Dr. Jeffrey Ecker, former chair of the obstetric practice group committee and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Follow AP Medical writer Lindsey Tanner on @LindseyTanner.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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