Picture this: a pregnant woman goes into labor at home. The family panics before a neighbor comes rushing in to inform them that the ‘Dai’ is on her way. Soon, a mature woman with a charming demeanor and wearing the look of an experienced midwife enters the home. She asks them if certain necessities like hot water, clean towels, etc are ready. She then enters the room where the woman is in labor. A few minutes later, the cries of a newborn fill the room, much to the relief of the rest of the family. The ‘Dai’ comes out carrying a healthy baby and informs that the mother is doing well.
This was an ad that aired in the ’80s on the only national channel available in those days – Doordarshan! The ad always ended with the Dai, played by veteran actress Dina Pathak, doling out advice on hygienic ways of handling home births. But that was the ’80s. With advanced medical facilities becoming accessible to the majority of the great Indian middle class, home births were soon relegated to the rural areas. So much so that most of the pregnant women in the ’90s opted for hospital births.
Home births made a comeback in the USA when it saw a sharp 29% rise between 2004 to 2009 and continues to increase in popularity (1). While an exact reason was not found for this rise, it was suggested that most women did so to avoid unnecessary hospital procedures and C-section (2).
It now seems as though this age-old tradition in India is soon catching up with the urban Indians too. Call it back-to-the-roots or what you will, women in urban India are now opting for home births. With no study or survey done specifically in this regard, it might be difficult to pinpoint the exact percentage of women going for home births. However, educated, working women in most metropolitan cities now seeking professional midwives for home birth could be one of the indicators. Another factor is the rise in training centers for midwifery in most cities nowadays. Earlier, the dai or midwives were armed with only experience or hearsay, which put the expectant mother and newborn’s life at risk. But now, they are trained professionals. Since India is yet to cover ground in this kind of curriculum for nursing professionals, most private hospitals resort to hiring foreign nationals to meet the demand. They are well-trained in midwifery and gain a working visa in India only after getting the necessary certifications and registrations that are required for medical personnel.
There are many reasons why home births are seeing a steady rise in urban Indian cities. Blame it on rampant commercialization of the medical sector in India, but those who used to rely on hospital births are now having second thoughts about them. Often, women who’ve delivered in a hospital come out with unsatisfactory experiences. It is only after such an experience do women start to dig deeper and look for other, natural options – something that should have been discussed by their consulting OB/GYN beforehand. Since such discussions do not happen well in advance, many soon-to-be parents feel that a C-section or other interventions had been forced on them. This usually happens when an expectant mother is already in labor, hardly giving the couple any time to reconsider their decisions.
Although the home birth trend is steadily rising, most medical professionals warn that it comes with its own flaws. Unexpected birth complications can put the life of the baby and the mother at risk. Keeping this in mind, many new-age home birth centers are now tying up with hospitals that can assist them during emergencies. Still, it is better to discuss these options and prepare yourself well in advance if you are considering a home birth.
Whether home birthing is a better option than a hospital birth – only time and experience can tell. But then, both have co-existed for a long time and come with their own set of pros and cons. So, no matter what you choose, make sure you take an informed decision. Ideally, your doctor should be answering all of your concerns. But if you’re not getting the right answer, then it’s time to change – the doctor – and seek a second, or even a third consultation until you are satisfied by the answer!