Am Fam Physician. 2021 Jun 1;103(11):672-679.
Patient information: See related handout on having a baby outside of a hospital, written by the authors of this article.
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Since the 1970s, most births in the United States have been planned to occur in a hospital. However, a small percentage of Americans choose to give birth outside of a hospital. The number of out-of-hospital births has increased, with one in every 61 U.S. births (1.64%) occurring out of the hospital in 2018. Out-of-hospital (or community) birth can be planned or unplanned. Of those that are planned, most occur at home and are assisted by midwives. Patients who choose a planned community birth do so for multiple reasons. International observational studies that demonstrate comparable outcomes between planned out-of-hospital and planned hospital birth may not be generalizable to the United States. Most U.S. studies have found statistically significant increases in perinatal mortality and neonatal morbidity for home birth compared with hospital birth. Conversely, planned community birth is associated with decreased odds of obstetric interventions, including cesarean delivery. Perinatal outcomes for community birth may be improved with appropriate selection of low-risk, vertex, singleton, term pregnancies in patients who have not had a previous cesarean delivery. A qualified, licensed maternal and newborn health professional who is integrated into a maternity health care system should attend all planned community births. Family physicians are uniquely poised to provide counseling to patients and their families about the risks and benefits associated with community birth, and they may be the first physicians to evaluate and treat newborns delivered outside of a hospital.
Although uncommon, planned out-of-hospital births are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. From 2004 to 2017, the number of out-of-hospital births in the United States increased by 75%.1 In 2018, out-of-hospital births represented 1.64% of all births, which translates to one in every 61 newborns being delivered in a location other than a hospital.2 Although small in magnitude, this is a reversal of the trend that occurred during the 20th century in which the frequency of hospital births rose from 37% in 1935 to more than 99% by 1970, where it remained essentially unchanged until 2004.3
SORT: KEY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PRACTICE
A = consistent, good-quality patient-oriented evidence; B = inconsistent or limited-quality patient-oriented evidence; C = consensus, disease-oriented evidence, usual practice, expert opinion, or case series. For information about the SORT evidence rating system, go to https://www.aafp.org/afpsort.
SORT: KEY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PRACTICE
|Clinical recommendation||Evidence rating||Comments|
Good-quality cohort studies with inconsistent findings
Good-quality cohort studies with inconsistent findings
Patients planning community birth should ensure that their maternity and neonatal health professional is licensed and meets International Confederation of Midwives Global Standards for Midwifery Education, is practicing within an integrated and regulated health system, and has access to safe and timely transport to a nearby hospital.9,13,15,16,54
Expert opinion and consensus guidelines in the absence of studies
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