New federal data shows that Minnesota has gone from below the national average in 2004 for the percent of births taking place at home to above the national average in 2009. While the rate of home births remains small -- at .72 percent in 2009, or 1 out of every 139 births -- the increase nonetheless reflects a movement toward alternative birthing options for low-risk pregnancies.
Minnesota's rate of home births in 2009 only ranked 20th, nationally. However the state's percentage point increase in home births from 2004 to 2009 was the fifth-largest. The data was released Thursday in a brief from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only Kansas joined Minnesota as a state to swing from below the national average to above the national average in that five-year timeframe. Wisconsin has one of the nation's highest homebirth rates -- with around 1 in every 75 births taking place at home.
Historically, the story of home births in Minnesota has been one of extremes -- with religious conservatives and naturalist liberals favoring the option. (I've reviewed state birth records in the past, and a substantial number of home births were in the state's Amish communities.) But midwives and their advocacy groups believe there are changing attitudes and that expecting parents of all kinds are considering the option. The Internet has helped expecting mothers to gain reliable information and support when considering alternative births and the use of midwifes instead of doctors, said Susan McKinnell of the advocacy group Minnesota Families for Midwifery.
"There's a societal interest in a more natural approach to health care," she said. "There's an interest among people in taking more control of their health care instead of just following what others tell them to do."
Minnesota, in general, has more options for births than in the past. Freestanding centers such as Health Foundations in St. Paul have opened in recent years to offer home-away-from-home environments for childbirths. A similar house-turned-birthing center is opening across from Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, and Abbott is in the process of building a $50 million freestanding birthing center that will offer waterbirths and other alternatives.
The CDC reports a lower-risk profile for home births -- which result in fewer premature births and deliveries of low birthweight babies. The authors of the report believe this is due to midwifes screening low-risk women as candidates for home births. (Advocates for and against home births offer dueling studies and statistics about whether home births are actually safer overall.)
The increase in planned home births (versus emergency deliveries at home) was largely fueled by white women pursuing this option. The rate of home births actually declined among blacks and Hispanics. Women who were married, or already had two children, were more likely to pursue home births.