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How Homebirth Helps Avoid the H1N1 Virus

You cannot miss the headlines: 

Hospitals May Face Severe Disruption From Swine Flu – “Swine flu may hospitalize 1.8 million patients in the U.S. this year, filling intensive care units to capacity and causing “severe disruptions” during a fall resurgence, scientific advisors  to the White House warned.” 

Hospitals May Ban Visits to Newborns Due to Swine Flu – “With a potential outbreak of swine flu on the horizon, many hospitals are becoming more cautious when it comes to protecting newborn babies and their mothers -- fears that have prompted a complete ban of children from areas of one hospital where newborns and their mothers are cared for -- and that have caused more intense deliberations about the issue in other facilities.

‘For pregnant women, there is a much higher risk associated with H1N1, and they wanted to err on the side of safety for pregnant women,’ said Mike Green, the chief executive officer of Concord Hospital in New Hampshire, which imposed the outright ban.”

81 U.S. healthcare workers found to have H1N1 virus - “At least 81 U.S. healthcare workers have contracted laboratory-confirmed cases of the novel H1N1 influenza virus and about half caught the bug on the job, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today.

The finding is worrisome because it suggests that hospitals and workers are not taking sufficient preventive measures to limit spread of the virus. If a large-scale outbreak of the virus recurs this fall, a similar infection rate could cause significant problems -- not only because it would limit the number of workers available to care for the sick, but also because the infected nurses, doctors and others could transmit the virus to debilitated patients before their own symptoms become apparent. Already-ill patients would be more likely to develop life-threatening side effects from the flu.” 

Does this scare you? It should.

While balancing the information you get from medical and holistic sources is crucial and each family needs to make their own decisions regarding vaccinations or nutritional support, the one clear truth is: those that are the sickest with H1N1 (“swine flu”) will be in hospitals. Considering and choosing a homebirth takes on an urgency not previously needed.

Women who have thought homebirths were for hippies and counter-culture crunchies now find themselves thinking hard about having one of their own. If you are one of the women who have thought a homebirth might be a good idea, but you were not sure of the safety aspects, it is time to fill in the information gaps. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to not have to worry that the person holding your newborn might be carrying a virus that can seriously harm you and your newborn? 

Having a baby at home is for healthy women having uncomplicated pregnancies. If you fit that description, you are already on your way to taking healthy control of your upcoming birth. But, where do you begin learning about the safety of homebirths, finding a midwife and how to prepare? 

The Internet abounds with information regarding birthing in one’s own home. Search “homebirth,” “home birth,” “waterbirth,” “midwife,” add your city to those terms, too, and you will find local resources. If you add “safety” to the terms, you will find yourself reading study after study that speaks highly of the safety of birthing at home with an experienced/educated midwife. A great place to start is the McMaster Study which, in part says, “Almost 6,700 planned home births in Ontario were assessed in the study. Results indicated that newborns and mothers were no more likely to suffer complications than their counterparts in a clinical setting.” 

It is important to have a midwife that is experienced with homebirth and most midwives in the United States are licensed or certified; be sure to ask when you interview a midwife. Midwives are well-prepared for emergencies, carrying medications for hemorrhage, being certified in neonatal resuscitation and being able to repair any tearing. 

While pain medications are not offered in the home setting, women are mobile and use a variety of pain coping techniques including massage, positioning and even immersion in water (which is often called the midwife’s epidural). Women birthing at home who have also had hospital births will say their homebirth was much more comfortable than the hospital birth, even without an epidural or narcotics. 

If a situation arises that moves out of the scope of practice for a midwife, whether it is a non-emergent (such as malposition of the baby’s head that does not resolve) or emergent (such as a hemorrhage that does not stop with basic medications), the midwife does not hesitate to move into the hospital. Even when we are trying to stay out of the hospital because of the H1N1 virus, weighing the pros and cons of going in are crucial and, when absolutely necessary, the pros outweigh the cons. 

For those women who cannot avoid the hospital during the birthing process, perhaps staying home as absolutely long as possible and then going home as soon as is safe can also help lower the risk of obtaining the virus. The less time you are in the hospital, the less chance of getting ill. 

But, when everything unfolds in the natural way birth is designed to do, staying home will definitely lower your risk of acquiring the H1N1 virus. You have control over who comes in your house and if they are sick, they do not come in. You can make sure everyone, including your own family, washes their hands regularly and remind people how to cover their mouths and noses with their sleeves should a sneeze overtake them. You can have your family take nutritional supplements that support the immune system; you will also do this for you and the baby. By taking control over the environment and keeping healthy family and friends close, you are minimizing the places you could get sick. 

So, if you have ever thought about a homebirth or if it never even crossed your mind, this might be the time to do so. Over and over, we hear in the news, “Stay out of the hospital unless you are extremely ill because there will be so many infected people there.” While we do not always believe what we hear, this might be one thing we really need to listen to. 

For more information about homebirth and homebirth midwifery, Search “Midwife,” “your state (or city),” “homebirth” and you will find several options. Whoever licenses midwives in your state will also have a list of those that carry certification or a license. In the states that do not have midwifery regulation, perhaps now is the time to get involved to make it possible in your state. Even in un-regulated states, Certified Professional Midwives might be in your area and worth talking to. 

Choosing a homebirth is a deeply personal decision and one that needs to be considered seriously and completely. For those that decide staying home and out of the line of the H1N1 fire, their births can be a way to remain well with a large dose of incredible.

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Reader Comments (3)

this is the huge reason i am so adamant about homebirth.
hospitals are gross, and for sick people, REALLY sick people. i have on more than one occasion also seen really poor hygene practices in some of the best hospitals in the area, at times even resulting in cross contamination. blegh!!!
i really feel pregnant women should be considering the risk of getting sick any time they enter into a hospital setting. when i went to visit my father after his heart attack, they wouldnt let my baby in to see him because she could get sick from another patient.
and they want us to BIRTH THERE?!?!?!!
i am glad that people are starting to figure out that a hospital may not be the ideal setting for a mother and newborn, though i feel its been pretty obvious for a long time.

September 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdanielle

Our midwife sent me this link after we'd discussed H1N1. A desire to have a gentle birth in a calm and peaceful environment was our main reason for choosing homebirth, but I will admit that concerns over H1N1 certainly played a role as well.

Hospitals are, and should be, for those who are too sick to be treated at home. Pregnancy and birth are not illnesses and should not be treated at a hospital unless a true emergency arises.

September 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMcGee

I am a homebirth mama and a L&D RN who loves your blog. I work at a large county hospital where we have 700+ births per month and we have recently had to change our visitation rules because of H1N1. Women are only allowed 2 visitors the entire time that they are in the hospital and those visitors are banded. No children, no one else can come to see them. All well babies are rooming in now, no respite care by sending the baby back to the nursery.

I like the new rules because I don't really think that birth should be a spectator event (although in a teaching hospital it often is). I also think that mom's breastfeeding is more successful with fewer visitors and rooming in.

H1N1 is just one out of many nasty bugs that parents can avoid by birthing in an out-of-hospital setting....

October 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLea

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