One in 40 new mothers gave birth at home last year, official figures suggest as Covid led expectant parents so steer clear of hospitals.
Office for National Statistics figures showed the proportion of births taking place in the home hit a nine-year high in 2020 amid lockdowns and tight restrictions.
A total of 14,281 out of 607,469 births in England and Wales — or 2.4 per cent — were recorded as taking place ‘at home’.
This was the biggest annual jump recorded since records began, surging from 2.1 per cent in the previous year.
Charities said although giving birth at home did not appear to pose any direct risk to babies, but parents should be aware of the facts.
Millions stayed away from the NHS during the first year of the pandemic after hospitals warned they were being overwhelmed by Covid patients.
Office for National Statistics figures showed 2.4 per cent of women gave birth at home during 2020, the highest proportion in nine years
The ONS figures are compiled from official registrations of births across England and Wales that are reported to the General Register Office.
Normally, they include births up to February the following year because of reporting delays.
Is it safe to give birth at home?
Expectant mothers can choose whether to give birth in hospital or at home.
The vast majority of mothers opt to have their babies on maternity wards, but an increasing number are choosing home births.
Stillbirth charity Tommy’s says that if a mother has had a child before and the pregnancy is low risk, then giving birth at home is ‘generally a safe and suitable option’.
They said this was because a mother was less likely to need interventions.
And the chance of having a baby with serious medical problems are not affected by where you plan to give birth.
They added there were also practical advantages to giving birth at home, such as more comfortable surroundings.
Mothers should not have a home birth, they said, if they have medical conditions, have had previous problems with pregnancy, developed complications during pregnancy, or are expecting more than one baby.
But this year they included births up to August, which the ONS said was because 42 per cent of registrations took more than 42 days to process, the legal limit.
The ONS noted the surge in stillbirths in its report compared to the proportion over previous years.
Statisticians said: ‘The pandemic caused disruption to health services and restrictions on birthing partners.
‘Therefore, Covid could have had an indirect effect on place of birth which may include people choosing to stay away from healthcare settings.’
The report also found mothers had an average age of 30.7 years in 2020, while fathers had an average age of 33.7 years. This was barely a change from previous years.
And the stillbirth rate fell to its lowest level on record, to 3.8 per 1,000 births.
The proportion of births that were preterm fell to 7.4 per cent in 2020, from 7.8 per cent the year before.
Clea Harmer, the chief executive of Sands — a stillbirth and neonatal death charity — said it was ‘vital’ that women are able to make informed choices about where they wished to give birth.
She said: ‘What is vital is that all pregnant women are able to have open discussions about their birth plan with healthcare professionals and raise any questions or concerns they have.
‘It’s essential that women are able to make informed choices about where they wish to give birth.
‘A homebirth may not be possible for all women, particularly where they have been identified as being at a higher risk due to age, ethnicity or a history of miscarriage or stillbirth.’
She added that evidence showed it was extremely important to have the same maternity team throughout pregnancy and birth to ‘build trust’.