Home birth assisted by a trained midwife is just as safe for low-risk mothers and their babies as a delivery led by a midwife in hospital, a study of more than half a million women has found.
Midwives and other home-birth advocates have seized on the research, published on Wednesday in BJOG: An International Journal Of Obstetrics And Gynaecology, to put further pressure on the Federal Government to overhaul maternity services.
The study of almost 530,000 low-risk births over seven years in the Netherlands found no difference in death or serious illness among either mothers or their babies if they gave birth at home rather than in hospital.
The study did not compare the relative safety of home births against low-risk women who opted for obstetrician rather than midwife-led care in hospital.
Associate Professor Hannah Dahlen, from the Australian College of Midwives, said evidence had long showed mothers have higher satisfaction rates when giving birth at home, but concerns about the impact on the baby had seen home birth remain under a cloud. "This cloud has now been lifted," she said.
The Netherlands has the highest home birth rate in the western world at 30 per cent.
But the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists warned against extrapolating the Dutch experience to Australia, arguing pregnant women are cared for very differently in the two countries.
The Netherlands has the highest home birth rate in the western world at 30 per cent, thanks to a streamlined transportation and referral system that allows women who plan a home birth to access specialist, emergency obstetric care in hospital should complications arise.
The authors, from the TNO Institute for Applied Scientific Research in Amsterdam, said the study disproved the suspected link between the high rate of home birth and the high rate of perinatal mortality in the Netherlands compared to other European countries.
Associate Professor Dahlen called on the Government to "reconsider its silence over home birth" and urged the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, to endorse and fund a Medicare-subsidised system of home birth.
Essential baby members share their birth experiences.