Over the past two years, more and more pregnant women in the developed world have avoided hospitals for fear of getting COVID-19 and because visits by family members were restricted. National out-of-hospital birth rates in the US have been steadily rising from 2004 – 2019 and the pandemic has resulted in a surge, according to a CDC analysis. They rose from 1.03% of total births in 2019 to 1.26% in 2020, an increase of 22%. Meanwhile across England and Wales home births rose by 7% in the same period, after gradually decreasing since 2015. In developing countries however, where women may not be able to afford a hospital birth, a home birth may be the only option. According to South African midwife Ester Naude, “I have had more requests in my practice for home births. Some clients don’t want to give birth at hospitals any more, Covid tests are required and some hospitals don’t even allow husbands to sleep over or be present at births. Financially some clients have also lost their medical aids and are not able to birth in hospital any more.”
Why is it important?
It remains to be seen whether this increase will persist as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted around the world. However, this spike in home births could result in them becoming more widely accepted by society. They are currently in the minority with many European countries reporting that fewer than 1% of births take place at home. But more health care providers are covering birthing centres and home births than in the past. A study published on Plos One, suggests that scaling up midwifery in low- and middle-income countries could achieve a reduction in mortality, particularly when family planning services are also provided.
What can businesses do about it?
Some medical providers in SA already provide this benefit while this is not the case in many other parts of the world. “There’s a broad culture of anti-home birth in the insurance industry in general,” [in the US] says Indra Lusero, an attorney and director of an advocacy organisation focused on birth and reproductive justice. Medical insurance should take heed of this uptick by offering coverage to certified midwives and birthing centres. This group of women represent a growing cohort who will require related products and services that speak to such a lifestyle choice. This also represents a career opportunity for midwifery – a return to a career of the past.
By Faeeza Khan
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Image credit: Rebekah Vos