By MAMAMIA NEWS
Kate* has three children, two of whom were born via caesarean section. When she became pregnant with her fourth child, she went to the Internet in search of more information about the possibility of having her baby at home.
Convinced by endless data and statistics she found online, Kate made the choice to proceed with a home birth. On December 16 2010, she went into labour and at 10.16pm that evening, baby Joseph was born.
He was not breathing. His heart was not beating.
Fairfax newspapers reported last week that the coroner found Joseph’s death could have been prevented if the baby had been delivered in a hospital – under the care of trained doctors and with access to the necessary medical equipment.
An autopsy has revealed that baby Joseph has suffered a hypoxic brain injury during labour and that his mother’s failure to go to a hospital when her contractions began was a contributing factor to his death. Had Kate’s labour taken place in a hospital, the complications involved with baby Joseph would have been detected much earlier.
The coroner, Kim Parkinson said that too often the community was relying on internet research and layman’s analysis of data to make decisions which should only be made on the advice of a doctor. Only a few days earlier Kate had visited the hospital after experiencing heavy bleeding and chose to disregard the obstetrician’s advice that she have a fourth caesarean birth.
The coroner said that Kate appeared unaware of the risks associated with home birthing:
‘‘[This is] an example of the danger of untrained users utilising raw data or statistical information to support a premise as to risk, without knowledge and understanding of the complex myriad of factors relevant to the risk’’.
‘‘To disregard the obstetrician’s advice on the basis of a mantra founded in the uncertainty of statistical data obtained from the internet is a dangerous course to follow…”
The coroner also said that the midwife who attended Kate’s birth was a contributing factor in baby Joseph’s death. The coroner said that the midwife had “sustained the misguided views of the mother, contributed to her disregarding the advice provided by obstetric medical clinicians and facilitated in her a level of confidence that she may safely proceed to home birth.”
The death of baby Joseph suggests that we need to do more to ensure parents-to-be are fully aware of the risks of choosing to have a baby at home.
While many home births are a positive experience for the mother and child, and have very happy outcomes, the reality is that giving birth away from trained doctors and life saving medical equipment, can be a serious risk should problems arise during labour.
Childbirth is not a risk free medical procedure and should never be considered as such. But too often online communities that are not informed by medical experts, are glossing over the potential dangers of giving birth at home. As a result too many parents are unprepared and ill informed.
The coroner in this case called for a greater community understanding of the unpredictable nature of labour and birth. “The time would appear to be right for a proper and informed public discussion about these issues, not merely focused upon home birth and how it can be facilitated, but also the possible benefits and advantages of hospital birthing in some cases,” Kim Parkinson said.
Giving birth at home is a positive and legitimate choice for many families, but it needs to be accompanied by a willingness to change the plan if doctors advise its the best thing for the mother and her child.
*Editor’s note: We have chosen to remove Kate’s last name from this post, despite it being in the public domain following court proceedings. This is not about shaming a mother who is grieving, it is about spreading awareness of the dangers of relying on non-medical internet advice.