Model and actress Lily Cole has opened up about the home birth of her daughter in London last year.
Cole, 28, mum to nine-month-old Wylde, says she was aiming for a home birth but had an open mind about going to hospital. In the end, she got both.
“I am so glad my daughter’s first experience of life – of that transition from womb to world – was a positive and gentle one,” she says in the foreword to The Homebirth Handbook, which was written by her midwife, Annie Francis.
“It was 4am and the world was quiet outside. There were no drugs in her system. I think the experience we had together in those first moments has shaped the months that have followed, and potentially informed our daughter’s calm and fearless spirit,” Cole said.
After Cole gave birth with her partner Kwame Ferreira by her side, she had a complication with her placenta and the midwife called an ambulance. She spent the next two days in hospital.
“Although I had to transfer to hospital after the birth, a home birth meant I got to bring my little girl into the world in an intimate, private, sacred way. And I got to witness what my body is capable of,” she said.
According to recent figures from the UK, only 2.4 per cent of women give birth at home, and 11 per cent in midwife-led units. The rest give birth in hospital obstetrics units. Francis, who has been a midwife for 18 years, says there is “a great deal of fear” attached to birth.
“We risk-manage it and look at all the things that could go wrong,” she told The Telegraph. “We forget that most of the time things go right.”
Just over two per cent of births in the UK are at home. Photo via iStock.
In the UK, official guidance on birth has changed in recent years, to focus more on giving women freedom of choice. Evidence has shown that midwife-led units are safer than hospitals for women expecting a straightforward, low-risk birth. There's a lower rate of epidurals and other interventions, and the outcome for babies is no different.
As for home births, the guidance says these are as safe as midwife-led units and hospitals for the babies of low-risk pregnant women, except for first-time mothers.
Francis believes that bright, noisy labour wards can increase women's anxiety and lead to a dysfunctional labour.
"As mammals, we birth well when our hormones flow normally, and for that to happen we need quiet, dark spaces supported by people we know," she says.
She thinks that if more women are willing to give birth outside a hospital, like Cole did, the home birth rate in the UK could rise to 30-40 per cent within five years.
"This is about bodily integrity," she says. "It's a key area for women to take ownership of."
Birth in midwife-led units, rather than hospitals, is being encouraged in the UK. Image via iStock.
Meanwhile, in Australia, an inquest into the death of a baby has heard that the system for reporting at-risk births is "broken".
The ABC has reported that the baby boy was born at a property outside Lismore last year. His birth was considered high-risk because he was lying sideways in the womb, which meant he should have been delivered by caesarean, and the mother had hepatitis C. Concerns were raised, and a high-risk birth alert was lodged with Family and Community Services. But due to the volume of referrals that month, three-quarters of matters considered "risk of serious harm" weren't dealt with.
The baby boy was delivered by his parents. He had a pulse but wasn't breathing when he was born, and he died in hospital three days later.
Registered nurse Petria Maher saw the baby when he was driven to Nimbin Hospital. She said the father, who told her he had delivered all six of his children, didn't seem very upset.
"I was really concerned for the baby, this beautiful baby who had died that nobody seemed to care about," she said.
It's tragic cases like this that give home births such a bad reputation. The welfare of the child should always, always, always come first.
Would you ever give birth at home?
Main image of Lily Cole and her daughter via Instagram.
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