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Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births: a metaanalysis

      Objective

      We sought to systematically review the medical literature on the maternal and newborn safety of planned home vs planned hospital birth.

      Study Design

      We included English-language peer-reviewed publications from developed Western nations reporting maternal and newborn outcomes by planned delivery location. Outcomes' summary odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals were calculated.

      Results

      Planned home births were associated with fewer maternal interventions including epidural analgesia, electronic fetal heart rate monitoring, episiotomy, and operative delivery. These women were less likely to experience lacerations, hemorrhage, and infections. Neonatal outcomes of planned home births revealed less frequent prematurity, low birthweight, and assisted newborn ventilation. Although planned home and hospital births exhibited similar perinatal mortality rates, planned home births were associated with significantly elevated neonatal mortality rates.

      Conclusion

      Less medical intervention during planned home birth is associated with a tripling of the neonatal mortality rate.

      Key words

      Approximately 1 in 200 US women deliver at home, accounting for approximately 25,000 deliveries annually.
      • Martin J.A.
      • Hamilton B.E.
      • Sutton P.D.
      • et al.
      Births: final data for 2006 Natl Vital Stat Rep 57.
      An estimated 75% of low-risk singleton home births appear to be planned home deliveries.
      • Wax J.R.
      • Pinette M.G.
      • Cartin A.
      • Blackstone J.
      Maternal and newborn morbidity by birth facility among selected United States 2006 low-risk births.
      The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not support home birth, citing safety concerns and lack of rigorous scientific study.
      American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
      ACOG statement of policy: home births in the United States.
      Ideally, further investigation regarding the relative safety of planned home vs planned hospital delivery would occur via randomized trials, which are, however, impractical. Large cohort studies comparing outcomes of actual home with actual hospital births provide valuable data, particularly regarding rare but serious events.
      • Wax J.R.
      • Pinette M.G.
      • Cartin A.
      • Blackstone J.
      Maternal and newborn morbidity by birth facility among selected United States 2006 low-risk births.
      However, such investigations likely underestimate the risks associated with planned home birth, as up to 9% of parous and 37% of nulliparous women intending home birth require intrapartum transfer to hospital.
      • Ackermann-Liebrich U.
      • Voegeli T.
      • Günter-Witt K.
      • et al.
      Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedure and outcome.
      • Shearer J.M.L.
      Five year prospective survey of risk of booking for a home birth in Essex.
      • Wiegars T.A.
      • Keirse M.J.N.C.
      • van der Zee J.
      • Berghs G.A.H.
      Outcome of planned home and planned hospital births in low risk pregnancies: prospective study in midwifery practices in the Netherlands.
      • Lindgren H.E.
      • Radestad I.J.
      • Christensson K.
      • Hildengsson I.M.
      Outcomes of planned home births compared to hospital births in Sweden between 1992 and 2004: a population-based register study.
      Thus, adverse outcomes among the latter deliveries are attributed to hospital births. Therefore, cohort studies comparing planned home with planned hospital births provide the only sources of data by intended delivery location. Since individual reports of this design are limited by sample size, we employed metaanalysis according to proposed reporting methods to clarify the relative merits of planned home vs planned hospital birth.
      • Stroup D.F.
      • Berlin J.A.
      • Morton S.C.
      • et al.
      Meta-analysis of observational studies in epidemiology.
      For Editors' Commentary, see Table of Contents

      Materials and Methods

      Search strategy

      Computerized literature searches of MEDLINE and EMBASE were performed by a physician and medical librarian.

      MEDLINE search results

      The search strategy for the query for “all studies, regardless of methods, comparing intended/planned home births to intended/planned hospital births for maternal and newborn outcomes” was run in the MEDLINE database from 1950 through November week 1 2009 (Figure 1). The following terms were used: explosion of the medical subject heading “Home Childbirth” (defined as childbirth taking place at home); explosion of the medical subject heading “Delivery, Obstetric” (defined as delivery of the fetus and placenta under the care of an obstetrician or a health worker; obstetric deliveries may involve physical, psychological, medical, or surgical interventions); explosion of the medical subject heading “Hospitalization” (defined as being in a hospital or being placed in a hospital; the confinement of a patient in a hospital); and explosion of the medical subject heading “Inpatients” (defined as persons admitted to health facilities that provide board and room, for the purpose of observation, care, diagnosis, or treatment). The terms “Hospitalization” or “Inpatients” or any mention of the word form “Hospital*” (designated with an asterisk as the wild card picking up any letters after the “l,” eg, “hospitals,” “hospitalized”) was then combined with the term “Delivery, Obstetric” to limit to a hospital birth. These results were then “anded” with the term “Home Childbirth” and by doing so indicated that the citation must include indexing for both terms; thus the discussion in the article would include both concepts. Limits to English language and human studies were then included. The final line of strategy was to take the retrieval and limit to any citations that would include the word forms for “outcome*” or “compar*” or “intend*” or “plan*” as a way to narrow the results to include the concepts of outcomes, comparisons, comparing, intended, or planned by using the asterisk as a wild card.
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      FIGURE 1MEDLINE search strategy
      Wax. Outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2010.

      EMBASE search results

      This strategy was done using EMBASE classic (1947 through present). Using the all subject words feature the term “Home Delivery” was searched. The term “Childbirth” was also searched and combined with any form of the word “Hospital?” with the ? indicating a wild card to pick up any forms of the word, such as “hospitals” and “hospitalization.”
      The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews was also searched for relevant publications. Titles and abstracts of citations were reviewed for potential relevance and selected manuscripts were reviewed. References in these papers were manually reviewed and retrieved if potentially relevant.

      Study selection criteria

      Inclusion criteria were determined before the literature search was performed. Studies were included if performed in developed Western countries, published in English-language peer-reviewed literature, maternal and newborn outcomes were analyzed by planned delivery location, and data were presentable in a 2×2 table. Manuscripts were evaluated for quality using a published instrument.
      • Zaza S.
      • Wright-DeAguro L.K.
      • Briss P.A.
      • et al.
      Data collection instrument and procedure for systematic reviews in the guide to community preventive services.
      Outcome data were extracted by 2 physicians, with differences resolved by consensus. Outcomes for maternal intervention included epidural analgesia, electronic fetal heart rate monitoring, episiotomy, operative vaginal delivery (forceps or vacuum), and cesarean delivery. Maternal outcomes included mortality, morbidity measures of lacerations (≥3 degrees, vaginal, and perineal), infections (chorioamnionitis, endometritis, wound, and urinary), postpartum hemorrhage, retained placenta, and umbilical cord prolapse. Neonatal outcomes included 5-minute Apgar score <7, prematurity (<37 weeks' gestation), low birthweight (<10% for gestational age or <2500 g), macrosomia (≥90% for gestational age or ≥4000 g), postdatism (≥42 weeks' gestation), assisted ventilation requirement, perinatal death (stillbirth of at least 20 weeks or 500 g or death of liveborn within 28 days of birth), and neonatal death (death of a liveborn within 28 days of delivery). Perinatal and neonatal deaths were evaluated overall and for nonanomalous offspring. The study did not require institutional review board approval.

      Statistical methods

      Studies were assessed for homogeneity using the Breslow-Day test. When present, a fixed effects model was used; when absent, a random effects model was employed. Summary odds ratios (ORS) with 95% confidence intervals (CIS) were calculated for maternal and newborn outcomes, comparing planned home to planned hospital deliveries. Sensitivity analyses were conducted for studies employing matched planned home and hospital births,
      • Ackermann-Liebrich U.
      • Voegeli T.
      • Günter-Witt K.
      • et al.
      Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedure and outcome.
      • Woodcock H.C.
      • Read A.W.
      • Bower C.
      • Stanley F.J.
      • Moore D.J.
      A matched cohort study of planned home and hospital births in Western Australia 1981-1987.
      • Hutton E.K.
      • Reitsma A.H.
      • Kaufman K.
      Outcomes associated with planned home and planned hospital births in low-risk women attended by midwives in Ontario, Canada, 2003-2006: a retrospective cohort study.
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Saxell L.
      • Page L.A.
      • Klein M.C.
      • Liston R.M.
      • Lee S.K.
      Outcomes of planned home birth with registered midwife versus planned hospital birth with midwife or physician.
      those primarily based upon pre-1990 data,
      • Shearer J.M.L.
      Five year prospective survey of risk of booking for a home birth in Essex.
      • Woodcock H.C.
      • Read A.W.
      • Bower C.
      • Stanley F.J.
      • Moore D.J.
      A matched cohort study of planned home and hospital births in Western Australia 1981-1987.
      • Koehler N.U.
      • Solomon D.A.
      • Murphy M.
      Outcomes of a rural Sonoma county home birth practice: 1976-1982.
      lesser quality reports,
      • Shearer J.M.L.
      Five year prospective survey of risk of booking for a home birth in Essex.
      • Koehler N.U.
      • Solomon D.A.
      • Murphy M.
      Outcomes of a rural Sonoma county home birth practice: 1976-1982.
      • Dowswell T.
      • Thornton J.G.
      • Hewison J.
      • Lilford R.J.L.
      Should there be a trial of home versus hospital delivery in the United Kingdom?.
      and those not clearly specifying home birth attendants or in which home births were conducted by other than certified or certified nurse midwives.
      • Woodcock H.C.
      • Read A.W.
      • Bower C.
      • Stanley F.J.
      • Moore D.J.
      A matched cohort study of planned home and hospital births in Western Australia 1981-1987.
      • Pang J.W.Y.
      • Heffelfinger J.D.
      • Huang G.J.
      • Benedetti T.J.
      • Weiss N.J.
      Outcomes of planned home births in Washington State: 1989-1996.
      We used software (SAS, version 9.2; SAS Institute Inc, Cary, NC) for most data analysis. Random effects results were analyzed using an online metaanalysis calculator from the University of Pittsburgh (http://www.pitt.edu/∼super1/lecture/lec1171/meta5.doc).

      Results

      The results of the literature search are noted in Figure 2. Characteristics of the 12 included studies are described in Table 1.
      • Ackermann-Liebrich U.
      • Voegeli T.
      • Günter-Witt K.
      • et al.
      Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedure and outcome.
      • Shearer J.M.L.
      Five year prospective survey of risk of booking for a home birth in Essex.
      • Wiegars T.A.
      • Keirse M.J.N.C.
      • van der Zee J.
      • Berghs G.A.H.
      Outcome of planned home and planned hospital births in low risk pregnancies: prospective study in midwifery practices in the Netherlands.
      • Lindgren H.E.
      • Radestad I.J.
      • Christensson K.
      • Hildengsson I.M.
      Outcomes of planned home births compared to hospital births in Sweden between 1992 and 2004: a population-based register study.
      • Woodcock H.C.
      • Read A.W.
      • Bower C.
      • Stanley F.J.
      • Moore D.J.
      A matched cohort study of planned home and hospital births in Western Australia 1981-1987.
      • Hutton E.K.
      • Reitsma A.H.
      • Kaufman K.
      Outcomes associated with planned home and planned hospital births in low-risk women attended by midwives in Ontario, Canada, 2003-2006: a retrospective cohort study.
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Saxell L.
      • Page L.A.
      • Klein M.C.
      • Liston R.M.
      • Lee S.K.
      Outcomes of planned home birth with registered midwife versus planned hospital birth with midwife or physician.
      • Koehler N.U.
      • Solomon D.A.
      • Murphy M.
      Outcomes of a rural Sonoma county home birth practice: 1976-1982.
      • Dowswell T.
      • Thornton J.G.
      • Hewison J.
      • Lilford R.J.L.
      Should there be a trial of home versus hospital delivery in the United Kingdom?.
      • Pang J.W.Y.
      • Heffelfinger J.D.
      • Huang G.J.
      • Benedetti T.J.
      • Weiss N.J.
      Outcomes of planned home births in Washington State: 1989-1996.
      • deJong A.
      • van der Goes B.Y.
      • Ravelli A.C.J.
      • et al.
      Perinatal mortality and morbidity in a nationwide cohort of 529,688 low-risk planned home and hospital births.
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Lee S.K.
      • Ryan E.M.
      • et al.
      Outcomes of planned home births versus planned hospital births after regulation of midwifery in British Columbia.
      A total of 342,056 planned home and 207,551 planned hospital deliveries were available for analysis. No maternal deaths were reported in 4 studies totaling 10,977 planned home and 28,501 planned hospital births, precluding metaanalysis. However, we calculated the upper 95% confidence limits for these rates, expressed per 100,000 births, as 27.3 and 10.5, respectively.
      • Ackermann-Liebrich U.
      • Voegeli T.
      • Günter-Witt K.
      • et al.
      Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedure and outcome.
      • Lindgren H.E.
      • Radestad I.J.
      • Christensson K.
      • Hildengsson I.M.
      Outcomes of planned home births compared to hospital births in Sweden between 1992 and 2004: a population-based register study.
      • Hutton E.K.
      • Reitsma A.H.
      • Kaufman K.
      Outcomes associated with planned home and planned hospital births in low-risk women attended by midwives in Ontario, Canada, 2003-2006: a retrospective cohort study.
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Saxell L.
      • Page L.A.
      • Klein M.C.
      • Liston R.M.
      • Lee S.K.
      Outcomes of planned home birth with registered midwife versus planned hospital birth with midwife or physician.
      Table 2 presents the metaanalysis of maternal outcomes by intended delivery location. Planned home births experienced significantly fewer medical interventions including epidural analgesia, electronic fetal heart rate monitoring, episiotomy, and operative vaginal and cesarean deliveries. Likewise, women intending home deliveries had fewer infections, ≥3-degree lacerations, perineal and vaginal lacerations, hemorrhages, and retained placentas. There was no significant difference in the rate of umbilical cord prolapse.
      Figure thumbnail gr2
      FIGURE 2Study selection process
      Wax. Outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2010.
      TABLE 1Characteristics of studies included in metaanalysis
      SettingStudy designTime period studiedPublication yearData sourceInclusionsData analysis by parityPlanned deliveries, nIntrapartum transfer to hospital rate
      HomeHospitalNulliparousParousOverall
      California, United States
      • Koehler N.U.
      • Solomon D.A.
      • Murphy M.
      Outcomes of a rural Sonoma county home birth practice: 1976-1982.
      Retrospective cohort1976-19821984NDSingle obstetrician and lay midwife practice, nulliparous and parousStratification4546725/258 (9.7)5/263 (1.9)30/521 (5.8)
      United Kingdom
      • Shearer J.M.L.
      Five year prospective survey of risk of booking for a home birth in Essex.
      Prospective cohort1978-19831985Submitted data collection formsLow risk, parous, no past obstetric complications, 26 practicesParous only202185ND3.5%3.5%
      Western Australia
      • Woodcock H.C.
      • Read A.W.
      • Bower C.
      • Stanley F.J.
      • Moore D.J.
      A matched cohort study of planned home and hospital births in Western Australia 1981-1987.
      Matched cohort1981-19871994Birth records, transfer forms, computer systemAll Western Australian women booking for home birth and matched cohort of not planned home birth, nulliparous and parousMatching9762928NDND14.0%
      Switzerland
      • Ackermann-Liebrich U.
      • Voegeli T.
      • Günter-Witt K.
      • et al.
      Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedure and outcome.
      Prospective cohort with matched pairs1989-19921996Special data collection formsWomen receiving care from 1 team of physicians and midwives, no formal policy for planned home delivery, nulliparous and parousMatching48938525%ND15.9%
      Netherlands
      • Wiegars T.A.
      • Keirse M.J.N.C.
      • van der Zee J.
      • Berghs G.A.H.
      Outcome of planned home and planned hospital births in low risk pregnancies: prospective study in midwifery practices in the Netherlands.
      Prospective cohort1990-19931996Questionnaire, birth recordsLow-risk pregnancies receiving midwifery care in 54 practices, nulliparous and parousStratification114069636.7%8.7%20.3%
      Sweden
      • Lindgren H.E.
      • Radestad I.J.
      • Christensson K.
      • Hildengsson I.M.
      Outcomes of planned home births compared to hospital births in Sweden between 1992 and 2004: a population-based register study.
      Population-based cohort1992-20042008Swedish Medical Birth RegisterAll Swedish women planning home birth and control group of 37-42 wk low-risk singletons in ratio of 1:10, nulliparous and parousNo89711,341NDNDND
      British Columbia, Canada
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Lee S.K.
      • Ryan E.M.
      • et al.
      Outcomes of planned home births versus planned hospital births after regulation of midwifery in British Columbia.
      Prospective cohort1998-19992002British Columbia Reproductive Care Program antenatal, birth, and newborn recordsLow-risk women ≥36 wk planning home birth with midwife enrolled in Home Birth Demonstration Project and low-risk women 37-41 wk planning hospital birth, physician or midwife, nulliparous and parousNo8621314NDND16.5%
      United Kingdom
      • Dowswell T.
      • Thornton J.G.
      • Hewison J.
      • Lilford R.J.L.
      Should there be a trial of home versus hospital delivery in the United Kingdom?.
      Randomized trial19941996NDLow-risk parous women in 1 practiceParous only56000
      Washington State, United States
      • Pang J.W.Y.
      • Heffelfinger J.D.
      • Huang G.J.
      • Benedetti T.J.
      • Weiss N.J.
      Outcomes of planned home births in Washington State: 1989-1996.
      Population-based cohort1989-19962002Birth certificatesLow-risk singletons ≥34 wk and ≥37 wk, nulliparous and parousAdjustment613310,593NDNDND
      Netherlands
      • deJong A.
      • van der Goes B.Y.
      • Ravelli A.C.J.
      • et al.
      Perinatal mortality and morbidity in a nationwide cohort of 529,688 low-risk planned home and hospital births.
      Population-based cohort2000-20062009National perinatal registration dataLow-risk singletons 37-42 wk, nulliparous and parousStratification321,307163,261NDNDND
      Ontario, Canada
      • Hutton E.K.
      • Reitsma A.H.
      • Kaufman K.
      Outcomes associated with planned home and planned hospital births in low-risk women attended by midwives in Ontario, Canada, 2003-2006: a retrospective cohort study.
      Population-based cohort with matched controls2003-20062009Ministry of Health midwifery databaseLow-risk singletons 37-43 wk, nulliparous and parousMatching66926692NDND5.4%
      British Columbia, Canada
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Saxell L.
      • Page L.A.
      • Klein M.C.
      • Liston R.M.
      • Lee S.K.
      Outcomes of planned home birth with registered midwife versus planned hospital birth with midwife or physician.
      Population-based cohort with matched controls2000-20042009Provincial perinatal databaseLow-risk singletons 36-41 wk, nulliparous and parousNot performed289910,083NDNDND
      ND, not described.
      Wax. Outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2010.
      TABLE 2Metaanalysis of maternal outcomes in planned home vs planned hospital births
      OutcomeNo. of studiesPlanned home n/N (%)Planned hospital n/N (%)OR95% CI
      Intervention
       Epidural in labor
      Random effects model;
      3945/10,453 (9.0)4148/18,089 (22.9)0.240.22–0.25
       Electronic fetal heart rate monitoring2521/3761 (13.8)7138/11,397 (62.6)0.100.09–0.10
       Episiotomy
      Random effects model;
      8939/13,427 (7.0)3075/29,677 (10.4)0.260.24–0.28
       Operative vaginal delivery
      Random effects model;
      8497/14,157 (3.5)3433/33,624 (10.2)0.260.24–0.28
       Cesarean delivery
      Random effects model;
      10731/14,616 (5.0)3140/33,697 (9.3)0.420.39–0.45
      Morbidity
       ≥3-degree laceration
      Random effects model;
      5150/12,604 (1.2)794/31,740 (2.5)0.380.33–0.45
       Infection
      Fixed effects model.
      536/5341 (0.7)319/12,347 (2.6)0.270.19–0.39
       Postpartum bleeding/hemorrhage
      Random effects model;
      7933/18,720 (4.9)1639/32,552 (5.0)0.660.61–0.71
       Perineal laceration
      Random effects model;
      62408/5632 (42.7)8422/22,695 (37.1)0.760.72–0.81
       Vaginal laceration
      Fixed effects model.
      3640/8078 (7.9)4126/18,418 (22.4)0.850.78–0.93
       Cord prolapse
      Fixed effects model.
      33/4658 (0.06)32/22,738 (0.14)0.370.11–1.24
       Retained placenta
      Random effects model;
      573/6079 (1.2)248/15,208 (1.6)0.650.51–0.83
      CI, confidence interval; OR, odds ratio.
      Wax. Outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2010.
      a Random effects model;
      b Fixed effects model.
      Table 3 describes the metaanalysis of neonatal outcomes. Low Apgar scores could not be evaluated as most studies considered thresholds other than a score of 7 (range, 4–8). Compared to offspring of women planning hospital births, those of mothers planning home births were less likely to be born preterm or be of low birthweight. However, planned home births more often progressed to ≥42 weeks. While there was no difference in the rate of assisted ventilation, 1 large study found more frequent ventilation among planned home births, while 2 smaller studies noted lower rates in this group.
      • Hutton E.K.
      • Reitsma A.H.
      • Kaufman K.
      Outcomes associated with planned home and planned hospital births in low-risk women attended by midwives in Ontario, Canada, 2003-2006: a retrospective cohort study.
      • Pang J.W.Y.
      • Heffelfinger J.D.
      • Huang G.J.
      • Benedetti T.J.
      • Weiss N.J.
      Outcomes of planned home births in Washington State: 1989-1996.
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Lee S.K.
      • Ryan E.M.
      • et al.
      Outcomes of planned home births versus planned hospital births after regulation of midwifery in British Columbia.
      Perinatal mortality was similar by intended delivery location, overall as well as just among nonanomalous offspring. In contrast, the overall neonatal death rate was almost twice as high in planned home vs planned hospital births, and almost tripled among nonanomalous neonates. Importantly, these latter observations were consistent across all studies examining neonatal mortality, regardless of the covered time period.
      • Ackermann-Liebrich U.
      • Voegeli T.
      • Günter-Witt K.
      • et al.
      Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedure and outcome.
      • Lindgren H.E.
      • Radestad I.J.
      • Christensson K.
      • Hildengsson I.M.
      Outcomes of planned home births compared to hospital births in Sweden between 1992 and 2004: a population-based register study.
      • Woodcock H.C.
      • Read A.W.
      • Bower C.
      • Stanley F.J.
      • Moore D.J.
      A matched cohort study of planned home and hospital births in Western Australia 1981-1987.
      • Koehler N.U.
      • Solomon D.A.
      • Murphy M.
      Outcomes of a rural Sonoma county home birth practice: 1976-1982.
      • Pang J.W.Y.
      • Heffelfinger J.D.
      • Huang G.J.
      • Benedetti T.J.
      • Weiss N.J.
      Outcomes of planned home births in Washington State: 1989-1996.
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Lee S.K.
      • Ryan E.M.
      • et al.
      Outcomes of planned home births versus planned hospital births after regulation of midwifery in British Columbia.
      The anticipated population-based attributable risk of neonatal death overall and among nonanomalous offspring, employing a home birth prevalence of 0.6%, was 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively.
      TABLE 3Metaanalysis of neonatal outcomes in planned home vs planned hospital births
      OutcomeNo. of studiesPlanned home n/N (%)Planned hospital n/N (%)OR95% CI
      Morbidity
       Prematurity <37 wk
      Random effects model;
      575/9751 (0.77)191/4076 (4.7)0.720.55–0.96
       Postdates ≥42 wk
      Random effects model;
      4193/9297 (2.1)238/10,701 (2.2)1.871.50–2.32
       Low birthweight <10% or <2500 g
      Fixed effects model.
      5209/15,411 (1.3)468/21,290 (2.2)0.600.50–0.71
       Large for gestational age >90% or 4000 g
      Random effects model;
      41344/13,525 (9.9)1340/17,411 (7.7)1.070.99–1.16
       Newborn ventilation
      Random effects model;
      3497/13,525 (3.7)502/10,701 (4.7)1.120.99–1.28
      Mortality
       Perinatal death
        All
      Fixed effects model.
      6229/331,666 (0.07)140/175,443 (0.08)0.950.77–1.18
        Nonanomalous
      Fixed effects model.
      4225/330,324 (0.07)134/173,266 (0.08)0.950.76–1.18
       Neonatal death
        All
      Fixed effects model.
      732/16,500 (0.20)32/33,302 (0.09)1.981.19–3.28
        Nonanomalous
      Fixed effects model.
      623/15,633 (0.15)14/31,999 (0.04)2.871.32–6.25
      CI, confidence interval; OR, odds ratio.
      Wax. Outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2010.
      a Random effects model;
      b Fixed effects model.
      The results of the sensitivity analyses excluding older studies and poorer quality investigations revealed no significantly different findings from the original metaanalysis. In contrast, the sensitivity analysis excluding the 4 papers employing matching found no significant differences between planned home and planned hospital births regarding ≥3-degree lacerations (OR, 0.90; 95% CI, 0.62–1.31), retained placentas (OR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.38–1.14), hemorrhage (OR, 0.80; 95% CI, 0.64–1.00), prematurity (OR, 0.52; 95% CI, 0.27–1.00), and neonatal death among nonanomalous offspring (OR, 2.22; 95% CI, 0.83–5.97). The analysis excluding studies that included home births attended by other than certified or certified nurse midwives had findings similar to the original study, except that the ORs for neonatal deaths among all (OR, 1.57; 95% CI, 0.62–3.98) and nonanomalous (OR, 3.00; 95% CI, 0.61–14.88) newborns were not statistically significant.

      Comment

      Of concern, this investigation identified a doubling and tripling of the neonatal mortality rate overall and among nonanomalous offspring, respectively, in planned home compared to planned hospital births. This finding is particularly robust considering the homogeneity of the observation across studies. It is especially striking as women planning home births were of similar and often lower obstetric risk than those planning hospital births. The planned home delivery group commonly exhibited fewer obstetric risk factors such as excessive body mass index, nulliparity, prior cesarean, and previous pregnancy complications.
      • Wiegars T.A.
      • Keirse M.J.N.C.
      • van der Zee J.
      • Berghs G.A.H.
      Outcome of planned home and planned hospital births in low risk pregnancies: prospective study in midwifery practices in the Netherlands.
      • Lindgren H.E.
      • Radestad I.J.
      • Christensson K.
      • Hildengsson I.M.
      Outcomes of planned home births compared to hospital births in Sweden between 1992 and 2004: a population-based register study.
      • Woodcock H.C.
      • Read A.W.
      • Bower C.
      • Stanley F.J.
      • Moore D.J.
      A matched cohort study of planned home and hospital births in Western Australia 1981-1987.
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Lee S.K.
      • Ryan E.M.
      • et al.
      Outcomes of planned home births versus planned hospital births after regulation of midwifery in British Columbia.
      Moreover, our data show that planned home births are characterized by less frequent premature and low birthweight infants. The differential obstetric risk by planned delivery location was not unexpected since women self-select for home birth.
      In developed nations, following congenital anomalies, most perinatal deaths are related to intrapartum anoxia.
      • Pasupathy D.
      • Wood A.M.
      • Pell J.P.
      • Fleming M.
      • Smith G.C.S.
      Rates of and factors associated with delivery-related perinatal death among term infants in Scotland.
      Among the studies in our metaanalysis reporting causes of neonatal deaths in planned hospital births, this pattern was confirmed.
      • Ackermann-Liebrich U.
      • Voegeli T.
      • Günter-Witt K.
      • et al.
      Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedure and outcome.
      • Lindgren H.E.
      • Radestad I.J.
      • Christensson K.
      • Hildengsson I.M.
      Outcomes of planned home births compared to hospital births in Sweden between 1992 and 2004: a population-based register study.
      • Woodcock H.C.
      • Read A.W.
      • Bower C.
      • Stanley F.J.
      • Moore D.J.
      A matched cohort study of planned home and hospital births in Western Australia 1981-1987.
      • Pang J.W.Y.
      • Heffelfinger J.D.
      • Huang G.J.
      • Benedetti T.J.
      • Weiss N.J.
      Outcomes of planned home births in Washington State: 1989-1996.
      In contrast, 2 cohort studies implicated intrapartum asphyxia in 31% and 52% of planned home delivery perinatal deaths.
      • Crotty M.
      • Ramsay A.T.
      • Smart R.
      • Chan A.
      Planned homebirths in South Australia 1976-1987.
      • Bastian H.
      • Keirse M.J.N.C.
      • Lancaster P.A.L.
      Perinatal death associated with planned home birth in Australia: population based study.
      The past 2 decades have seen a significant decrease in such deaths, with evidence suggesting fewer fetuses experiencing intrapartum anoxia.
      • Pasupathy D.
      • Wood A.M.
      • Pell J.P.
      • Fleming M.
      • Smith G.C.S.
      Rates of and factors associated with delivery-related perinatal death among term infants in Scotland.
      • Vintzileos A.M.
      Evidence-based compared with reality-based medicine in obstetrics.
      Speculative explanations for the trend include more liberal use of ultrasound, electronic fetal heart rate monitoring, fetal acid-base assessment, labor induction, and cesarean delivery.
      • Pasupathy D.
      • Wood A.M.
      • Pell J.P.
      • Fleming M.
      • Smith G.C.S.
      Rates of and factors associated with delivery-related perinatal death among term infants in Scotland.
      • Vintzileos A.M.
      Evidence-based compared with reality-based medicine in obstetrics.
      Our findings, considered in light of these observations, raise the question of a link between the increased neonatal mortality among planned home births and the decreased obstetric intervention in this group.
      Additionally, while limited by the number of neonatal deaths described in sufficient detail, planned home births were characterized by a greater proportion of deaths attributed to respiratory distress and failed resuscitation.
      • Lindgren H.E.
      • Radestad I.J.
      • Christensson K.
      • Hildengsson I.M.
      Outcomes of planned home births compared to hospital births in Sweden between 1992 and 2004: a population-based register study.
      • Woodcock H.C.
      • Read A.W.
      • Bower C.
      • Stanley F.J.
      • Moore D.J.
      A matched cohort study of planned home and hospital births in Western Australia 1981-1987.
      • Koehler N.U.
      • Solomon D.A.
      • Murphy M.
      Outcomes of a rural Sonoma county home birth practice: 1976-1982.
      • Pang J.W.Y.
      • Heffelfinger J.D.
      • Huang G.J.
      • Benedetti T.J.
      • Weiss N.J.
      Outcomes of planned home births in Washington State: 1989-1996.
      These findings echo concerns raised in a recent large US cohort study in which home births experienced significantly more 5-minute Apgar scores <7 as compared to low-risk term hospital births, suggesting an increased need for resuscitation among home births.
      • Wax J.R.
      • Pinette M.G.
      • Cartin A.
      • Blackstone J.
      Maternal and newborn morbidity by birth facility among selected United States 2006 low-risk births.
      Therefore, the personnel, training, and equipment available for neonatal resuscitation represent other possible contributors to the excessive neonatal mortality rate among planned home births. Finally, we note that there may well be other unrecognized factors contributing to the higher neonatal death rate among planned home births.
      Interestingly, our metaanalysis noted similar perinatal mortality rates by intended delivery site, both overall, as well as among nonanomalous offspring. This result is not surprising considering the low-risk nature of the antecedent pregnancies. However, it is an unexpected finding given the increased neonatal mortality rate observed with planned home delivery. The apparent discordance may result from the differences in obstetric risk among women planning home vs hospital births. A study published after our analysis found similar perinatal mortality rates in planned home and hospital deliveries. However, adjusting the perinatal mortality ratio for the later gestational ages at delivery and greater birthweights among home births demonstrated higher standardized perinatal mortality ratios among planned home deliveries, particularly among those requiring transfer to hospital.
      • Kennare R.M.
      • Keirse M.
      • Tucker G.R.
      • Chan A.C.
      Planned home and hospital births in South Australia, 1991-2006: differences in outcomes.
      Such an adjustment could not be performed in the current analysis without patient-level data. However, one may speculate that similar findings would be noted based on the later gestational age at birth and greater birthweights seen in our analysis among planned home vs planned hospital births. In contrast, we were able to estimate the population-based attributable risk of neonatal death due to home birth. The absolute risk was small, reflecting the low prevalence of home birth and rarity of the outcome, despite its significantly increased OR.
      A paucity of data in the original studies precluded a more in-depth examination of contributors to the perinatal mortality rates described in this metaanalysis. Potentially valuable insights could result from evaluating antepartum vs intrapartum stillbirths, as well as potentially preventable deaths. Interestingly, 2 Dutch studies observed no relationship between potentially avoidable perinatal deaths and delivery setting (home vs hospital) or birth attendant (midwife vs physician).
      • Wolleswinkel-van den Bosch J.H.
      • Vredevoogd C.B.
      • Borkent-Polet M.
      • et al.
      Substandard factors in perinatal care in the Netherlands: a regional audit of perinatal deaths.
      • DeReu P.A.O.M.
      • Nijhuis J.G.
      • Oosterbaan H.P.
      • Eskes T.K.A.B.
      Perinatal audit on avoidable mortality in a Dutch rural region: a retrospective study.
      However, a recent Australian study identified an increased rate of intrapartum perinatal deaths among planned home deliveries, one-third of which were attributed to asphyxia, contrasting only 3.6% of intrapartum perinatal deaths among planned hospital births.
      • Kennare R.M.
      • Keirse M.
      • Tucker G.R.
      • Chan A.C.
      Planned home and hospital births in South Australia, 1991-2006: differences in outcomes.
      The maternal mortality rate arguably represents the ultimate measure of childbirth safety. The current study could not perform metaanalysis of maternal mortality by planned delivery location because no deaths were described among studies reporting this outcome. The absence of maternal deaths is not surprising considering the number of deliveries comprising the study populations. Thus, more data are necessary before drawing any conclusions regarding the maternal mortality rates of planned home and planned hospital delivery.
      The current metaanalysis shows that planned home compared to planned hospital births are associated with significantly less maternal and newborn medical intervention and morbidity particularly among selected low-risk women cared for by highly trained and regulated midwives who are integrated into the health care system. These findings are notable in that our analysis by planned delivery site confirms many of the observations of a recent cohort study evaluating outcomes by actual delivery location.
      • Wax J.R.
      • Pinette M.G.
      • Cartin A.
      • Blackstone J.
      Maternal and newborn morbidity by birth facility among selected United States 2006 low-risk births.
      At first glance, these results are not surprising for several reasons. Many women choose home birth, at least in part to avoid pharmacologic analgesia and medical technology.
      • Ackermann-Liebrich U.
      • Voegeli T.
      • Günter-Witt K.
      • et al.
      Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedure and outcome.
      • Hildingsson I.
      • Waldenstrom U.
      • Radestad I.
      Swedish women's interest in home birth and in-hospital birth center care.
      • vanderHulst L.A.M.
      • vanTeijilingen E.R.
      • Bonsel G.J.
      • Eskes M.
      • Bleker O.P.
      Does a pregnant woman's intended place of birth influence her attitudes toward and occurrence of obstetric interventions?.
      • Ogden J.
      • Shaw A.
      • Zander L.
      Women's memories of home-birth 3-5 years on.
      • Neuhaus W.
      • Piroth C.
      • Kiencke P.
      • Göhring U.
      • Mallman P.
      A psychosocial analysis of women planning birth outside hospital.
      • Abernathy T.J.
      • Lentjes D.M.
      Planned and unplanned home births and hospital births in Calgary, Alberta, 1984-87.
      • Boucher D.
      • Bennett C.
      • McFarlin B.
      • Freeze R.
      Staying home to give birth: why women in the United States choose home birth.
      Most women considered to be home birth candidates exhibit low obstetric risk and should therefore anticipate more favorable outcomes than women choosing or requiring a planned hospital delivery. Finally, most home births are attended by midwives, a group demonstrating distinctly different obstetric practice patterns from physicians performing most in-hospital deliveries.
      • Fraser W.
      • Hatem-Asmar M.
      • Krauss I.
      • et al.
      Comparison of midwifery care to medical care in hospitals in the Quebec pilot study: clinical indicators.
      • Rosenblatt R.
      • Dobie S.A.
      • Hart C.G.
      • et al.
      Interspecialty differences in the obstetric care of low-risk women.
      • Reime B.
      • Klein M.C.
      • Kelly A.
      • et al.
      Do maternity care provider groups have different attitudes toward birth?.
      • Janssen P.A.
      • Ryan E.M.
      • Etches D.J.
      • Klein M.C.
      • Reime B.
      Outcomes of planned hospital birth attended by midwives compared with physicians in British Columbia.
      A systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized trials of midwife-led vs other care models confirms less medical intervention and improved perinatal outcomes in the former group.
      • Hatem M.
      • Sandall J.
      • Devane D.
      • Soltani H.
      • Gates S.
      Midwife-led versus other models of care for childbearing women.
      Importantly, these trials included hospital but not home births.
      Women, particularly low-risk parous individuals, choosing home birth are in large part successful in achieving their goal of delivering with less morbidity and medical intervention than experienced during hospital-based childbirth. Of significant concern, these apparent benefits are associated with a near tripling of the neonatal mortality rate among nonanomalous infants. These results confirm and complement those of prior large cohort studies assessing outcomes by actual birth location, suggesting generalizability to and value in counseling low-risk women considering home birth particularly with highly trained, regulated midwives who are fully integrated into existing health care systems. Therefore, these data may be of limited applicability to women opting for home birth in the United States.
      • Wax J.R.
      • Pinette M.G.
      • Cartin A.
      Home versus hospital birth: process and outcome.
      The large number of outcomes for which heterogeneity was present suggests that such results should be interpreted with caution. Finally, one must appreciate that the lower obstetric risk characterizing women self-selecting planned home birth likely underestimates the risk and overestimates the benefit of this delivery choice.
      Future research needs to be directed at identifying contributors to and reducing the apparently excessive neonatal mortality among planned home births. Data regarding maternal mortality, maternal and newborn readmission rates and indications, and newborn neurologic injury are insufficient for evaluation and comparison. Comprehensive economic analyses by planned birth location are also lacking.
      • Henderson J.
      • Petrou S.
      Economic implications of home births and birth centers: a structured review.
      Ideally, the results of such work will contribute to an obstetric and newborn best practices model benefiting women and children regardless of chosen birth location.

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      Linked Article

      • Time for improved standards for studies of home birth
        American Journal of Obstetrics & GynecologyVol. 203Issue 5
        • Preview
          The recent article comparing maternal and newborn morbidity among births at home, hospital, or birth centers by Wax et al, reported that infantss born at home more frequently experienced 5-minute Apgar scores below 7.1 The methodology used brings into question the validity of this conclusion.
        • Full-Text
        • PDF
      • Study validity questioned
        American Journal of Obstetrics & GynecologyVol. 204Issue 4
        • Preview
          We read with some alarm the article by Wax et al entitled, “Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home births vs planned hospital birth: a metaanalysis.”1 We agree with several researchers who point out that the method used to select studies for inclusion in this metaanalysis requires serious scrutiny.
        • Full-Text
        • PDF
      • International data demonstrate home birth safety
        American Journal of Obstetrics & GynecologyVol. 204Issue 4
        • Preview
          The metaanalysis by Wax et al1 resulted in misleading results and conclusions about the safety of home birth.
        • Full-Text
        • PDF
      • Home birth metaanalysis: does it meet AJOG's reporting requirements?
        American Journal of Obstetrics & GynecologyVol. 204Issue 4
        • Preview
          We challenge the conclusions of the metaanalysis by Wax et al,1 which reported that planned home births had higher neonatal mortality rates than hospital births and were therefore less safe. The metaanalysis includes poor quality studies, has a high risk of methods bias, and does not meet the Journal's requirement to comply with metaanalysis of observational studies in epidemiology guidelines.2 For example:
        • Full-Text
        • PDF
      • “Home birth triples the neonatal death rate”: public communication of bad science?
        American Journal of Obstetrics & GynecologyVol. 204Issue 4
        • Preview
          Current debate and commentaries about the paper by Wax et al1 regarding outcomes of home births have focused on methodological flaws.2 Another serious concern is the selective quoting of results and conclusions in the paper's abstract and the misleading press release from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG) entitled “Planned Home Births Associated with Tripling of Neonatal Mortality Rate Compared to Planned Hospital Births,” that stated “…of significant concern, these apparent benefits are associated with a doubling of the neonatal mortality rate overall and a near tripling among infants born without congenital defects.”3 The news story was picked up by the mass media, and reported uncritically in BMJ and The Lancet.
        • Full-Text
        • PDF
      • Perinatal mortality and planned home birth
        American Journal of Obstetrics & GynecologyVol. 204Issue 4
        • Preview
          We read with interest the recent systematic review of the safety of home birth.1 The results were alarming, but closer examination revealed reason to suspend judgment.
        • Full-Text
        • PDF
      • Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births: a metaanalysis
        American Journal of Obstetrics & GynecologyVol. 204Issue 4
        • Preview
          A recent metaanalysis by Wax et al1 raises several methodologic and analytic concerns. Only 4 studies selected for analysis involved deliveries occurring in the present decade, 7 studies involved fewer than 3000 participants (one with n = 11), and only 1 study was US-based. That study2 accounted for 59% of the neonatal deaths analyzed by Wax et al, and was based on birth certificates that did not explicitly indicate whether the place of birth was planned. Moreover, the analyses of intervention, maternal and infant morbidity involved different studies from those examined for perinatal and infant mortality.
        • Full-Text
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