Covid led to more mothers opting for home births

Hundreds more women gave birth at home in 2020 as Covid-19 kept more people away from hospitals.

Charity Birthrights says the closure of many home birth services during the pandemic means the number could have been much higher.

Some 14,281 mothers across England and Wales gave birth at home in 2020, according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.

That was 874 more than the 13,407 who chose to do so in 2019 – a rise of 7%, where previously the figure had been falling gradually since at least 2015, the earliest year with available figures.

Meanwhile, the overall number of births inside and outside hospitals fell by 4%, to 607,469, continuing a downward trend in recent years.

Maria Booker, programs director at Birthrights, said the charity had seen an increased interest in home births during the pandemic due to “stay at home” messaging, fear about catching the virus in hospitals and visitor restrictions in maternity wards.

She added: “However, at the height of the first wave in 2020 around half of home birth services were withdrawn so arguably the number of individuals choosing to give birth at home might have been even higher had this option been more widely available.

“Towards the end of 2020 and through most of 2021, most home birth services were operating as usual but due to the current staffing crisis we have seen a significant number of temporary home birth suspensions again.

“Whether the home birth rate continues to rise will be determined by how far it is available, as well as demand for it.”

The figures count “maternities”, which are pregnancies that result in the birth of one or more children, including stillbirths.

Separate ONS data shows home births still only made up 2.4% of all babies born across England and Wales in 2020.

But that was still up slightly from 2.1% the previous year and was also the highest proportion since 2011.

The increase was much greater in Wales, where the number of mothers giving birth at home rose by 213 (27%) to 1,013 in 2020.

Meanwhile, the total number of maternities dropped by around 4% to 28,356.

Home births

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our five-year maternity vision for Wales is committed to enabling a choice of birth settings, including midwifery-led units and home births.

“Health boards in Wales have worked hard to continue to provide choice during the pandemic, but there have been occasions when, due to staffing levels, services have needed to be centralized to ensure safe, effective services for all women and families.”

The spokesperson added that the five-year plan also aimed to drive further improvements to stillbirth rates, including those for families from Black ethnic backgrounds.

The ONS data shows that stillbirth rates across England and Wales continued to be highest among babies from Black ethnic groups.
The rate stood at 6.3 stillbirths per 1,000 in 2020, which despite being down from 7.1 per 1,000 the previous year was still around double the rate of 3.2 per 1,000 among White babies.

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