I’ve tried very hard to track home birth deaths (mostly via the internet and news papers), and it is a very difficult task. I know that many women who lost their babies to home birth do not believe the deaths were preventable, and don’t wish to sully the reputation of home birth by sharing their stories in public. There are others who understandably want to keep their grief private for reasons unrelated to choosing a home birth. I’ve had to ignore a lot of the home birth deaths I’ve found because a state and year were not available to properly catalog them on the home birth fatality map.
However, there are statistics available to give the public an idea of how many of babies die as a result of home births and natural child birth ideology.
MANA (Midwives Alliance of North America) released the results of a non-random survey recently. They call it a “study” when it is nothing of the sort. It is a voluntary survey with less than half of participants staying with the project until its completion. Data was voluntarily reported on 16,000 births. The results of the MANA stats project under-represents the number of home birth related deaths, but I will still use these numbers to give home birth midwives the best chance to prove that their practices are safe.
So, for a comparable group of infants born in the hospital, with congenital abnormalities excluded, the combined neonatal and intrapartum death rate is at most 0.7 per thousand. The combined neonatal and intrapartum death rate for the MANA STATS group, with congenital abnormalities excluded, was 2.06 per thousand, which is significantly higher. (p<.0001, highly statistically significant.)
In other words, the expected number of deaths from causes other than congenital anomalies was at most 12, and the actual number of deaths was 35 (44 with anomalies included). It is clear that home birth substantially increases the risk of neonatal death and of intrapartum death.
According to the CDC the rate of out of hospital birth was 1.36% nationally as of 2012.
According to the CDC 3,952,841 births were registered in the U.S. in 2012.
1.36% of 3,952,841 is 53,759 births.
If you use MANA’s overly optimistic numbers, 110 babies died at home births in 2102. The rate of death for the same number of babies in the hospital is 38. 110 minus 38 equals 72.
That means at least 72 babies died because they were born at home that year. It is likely more. Midwives who have multiple adverse outcomes likely chose to keep their data to themselves.
I also know that there is no real tracking of the deaths that are caused by Unassisted Child Birth (also called “free birth”), and that freebirthers are encouraged to lie to authorities if their baby dies. They say they just couldn’t get to the hospital in time. I know that a midwife can make a birth more or less dangerous by being there- sometimes a UC mom will go to the hospital when a midwife would have discouraged doing so, or vice versa. There is no doubt that these deaths are overwhelmingly the result of natural child birth philosophy.
There is not any information on how many midwives failed to attend a birth that ended in death as a result, despite knowing that this can and does happen to mothers. Dreah Louis and Vylette’s mother both lost a baby this way. It does not seem possible for midwives to report on a birth that they weren’t even there for.
The skeptical OB, who is very good at finding and posting about home birth deaths, only found 23 in 2012. Less than half of the minimum that could be expected.
Some people may be thinking that it is hard to use statistics for a five year period on any given year, but home birth midwifery doesn’t really change. Like all pseudoscience it has no advances, and practitioners believe things are fine the way they are.
I am sure other people are saying that 72 deaths is too small a number to be concerned about. 34 children died of heat stroke from being left in cars in 2012, and the outrage over the deaths is considerable. The issue with deaths from home birth or being left in cars isn’t the number, its that they were completely preventable, and that parents have a duty to protect their children from preventable deaths. This is just an estimate of a single year, these tragedies are repeated each and every year.
Reading a number doesn’t really do justice to what these deaths mean. I am going to try and represent them visually, by posting 72 pairs of baby shoes. Each pair represents the unfulfilled hopes of parents for their children’s first step, first word, first everything.