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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 November, 2004, 00:42 GMT
Call for more help on home births
Pregnant woman
One in five women want more information on child births
More support and information is needed to help women give birth at home, a campaign group says.

The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) said there was a "postcode lottery" in home birth provision.

More than 12 times as many women in Devon, 5.8%, gave birth at home as in Northumberland, 0.45%, according to Office of National Statistics figures.

Last year, 2% of births in the UK, 14,187, were at home, according to information website BirthChoiceUK.

In England, 2.18% of births were at home - only a slight increase from 2.15% in 2002.

In Wales, where there is a Welsh assembly target of 10%, rates have risen from 2.15% in 2002 to 2.7% in 2003, with Carmarthenshire taking the top spot at almost 7%.

Areas in England with highest home birth rate
1 - Devon 5.8%
2 - East Sussex 5.3%
3 - Cornwall 4.5%
4 - Dorset 4%
5 - Suffolk 3.9%

Home births remain relatively uncommon in Northern Ireland and Scotland, with 0.34% and 1% taking place at home respectively.

One in five women want more information about giving birth at home, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said.

Mary Newburn, the NCT's head of policy research, said: "Many NHS trusts are still not providing a home birth service as a priority, or providing women with the kind of balanced information they need in order to be able to make an informed choice about where to have their baby.

"This is short-sighted as women who plan a home birth use fewer NHS resources as their births are usually very straightforward, not involving epidural anaesthesia, an operating theatre or special care for their baby afterwards.

Requirements

"We want to see a move towards more flexible, midwife-led maternity services, based around the needs of women and with home birth offered as an option to all women with a straightforward pregnancy."

The National Service Frameworks for Children and Maternity Services in England and Wales published this year requires NHS trusts to offer home births as an option.

The RCM said pregnant women should be given a choice but said, in practice, that did not always happen because of staffing shortages.

Areas of England with lowest home birth rate
1 - Northumberland 0.45%
2 - Merseyside 0.7%
3 - County Durham 1%
4 - Tyne and Wear 1.2%
4 - West Midlands 1.2%

A spokesman said: "Over the last two generations, home birth in the UK has become markedly less common.

"Yet the evidence indicates that the health outcomes of planned home birth are as good as those for hospital birth, and that many women experience a range of emotional and practical benefits from giving birth at home."

But he added: "It is undeniable that in parts of the UK women are still experiencing difficulty in arranging a home birth."

The Nursing and Midwifery Council, which is currently drawing up new guidance for midwives on home births, said hospitals should be providing the service.

"Where it is not provided it is often because of staff shortages."

Health Minister Stephen Ladyman said he recognised home births were not always possible because of a shortage of midwives.

He said the government were recruiting more midwives - an extra 1,560 since 1997.

"Home birth is a choice that women should have everywhere and we'll move to that position as quickly as practicable."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Find out why the regional variations exist



SEE ALSO:
Trust resumes home birth service
23 Sep 04 |  Cambridgeshire
Midwife sacked after home birth
22 Aug 04 |  Health
Midwife shortage risk to babies
16 Feb 04 |  Health


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