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Hospital Birth vs. Home Birth: What's Right for You?

Photo by: iStock

Soon-to-be-parents can feel like they’re being tugged in all sorts of directions even before their little one enters the world. From breastfeeding versus formula, to maternity and/or paternity leave, to choosing where your baby sleeps at night, there’s a lot to think about.

Today we’re focusing on the topic of where to have your baby, a decision that’s very personal and will vary from family to family. We spoke to Monique Cowan, a birth and postpartum doula, who’s helped her patients make this decision many times over. Our goal is to simply lay out the basics on both home and hospital births to help you choose which is best for your individual needs.

Home Births
A home birth is exactly what it sounds like: giving birth in the comfort of your own home, or a friend or family member’s home.

“Home births are usually attended by a midwife – and possibly a doula – although some women have also chosen to birth at home unattended by any medical professional or birth worker,” explains Cowan.

This space affords a family several unique advantages that they wouldn’t have at a hospital birth. For example, mothers can include whomever they wish during the birth, including older children and family members, without any restrictions or formalities. The mother can also utilize a birthing pool or bathtub for a water birth, as most hospitals can’t accommodate this request.

“The main thing is that you have the option to do whatever is comfortable and resonates with your beliefs and philosophies without the dictation of hospital policies,” notes Cowan. “The laboring mother can eat and drink as she wishes, have her entire family around (should she choose), play her own music, dim the lights, and she does not have to worry about rooming with a stranger following the birth. Also, after birth, baby remains with mom the entire time. There is no rush to separate for cleaning or any other interventions. This facilitates successful bonding and breastfeeding.”

Things that aren’t available during a home birth are medications and epidurals that help numb the pain of childbirth, as well as additional medical assistance in the case of complications and emergencies.

Complications that can occur include a breeched baby, prolapsed umbilical cord, prolonged, stalled or particularly painful labor, fetal distress, and postpartum complications experienced by the mother, such as hemorrhaging or extensive tears that need to be addressed. In these cases, Mom typically heads to the hospital anyway to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Hospital Birth
Today, a hospital birth is considered the traditional route for new parents. This setting may feel less intimate, but there’s a certain peace of mind that comes from being surrounded by a host of medical equipment and staff who are familiar with – and trained for – any birthing scenario.

“Birthing in a hospital does provide its advantages in that, should any distress occur where serious medical intervention is necessary, the hospital is well-equipped to handle it. Should the mother decide she would like more than natural pain management, the hospital is able to offer pain medication,” Cowan explains. “Women are usually admitted for at least 24 to 48 hours after birth and are, typically, closely monitored during this time by the hospital nursing staff. If Mom needs, there are usually other non-medical resources available to her right in the hospital.”

Because Mom is hooked up to fetal monitors, heart rate monitors and an IV, she is typically restricted in the types of births she wants to do. For example, a water birth is almost always not a possibility in a hospital setting. Still, Mom can make requests for an unrestricted labor, and has the final say in whether she wants an epidural and other pain-relieving medications.

Also, though it’s a much more formal setting, Mom still has a say in who can accompany her in the delivery room (though this number may be restricted to a couple people), and who can come during visiting hours.

“I would suggest birthing in a hospital to any truly at-risk pregnant mothers,” Cowan advises. “Mothers who have diagnosed medical conditions that could be a danger to herself or to the baby, or who are pregnant with a baby who has been diagnosed with a threatening condition in-utero, should birth in a hospital setting.”

At the end of the day, home births and hospitals offer their own advantages and drawbacks. It’s up to you to decide what method fits your needs best, and to know that whatever you decide, it’s the perfect choice for you.

Wendy Rose Gould is a writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers women’s lifestyle topics for numerous digital publications, including InStyle, xoVain, Refinery29, Revelist, PopSugar and ModCloth. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram or at

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