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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. More women in the U.S. are giving birth at home. That's according to a new government study out today. Home births are still relatively rare, but they jumped 29 percent between 2004 and 2009.

As NPR's Rob Stein reports, the trend is being cheered by some women's health advocates, but raising concern among doctors.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: When Kate Miller was getting ready to deliver her daughter last spring, she had no doubts that she wants to do it in her own apartment in Washington, D.C.

KATE MILLER: I wanted the comfort and quiet of my own home and I didn't want any unnecessary procedures done to me or to her.

STEIN: Miller is not alone. About 30,000 babies are born at home each year, about one percent of all births, and the percentage appears to be increasing faster than anyone realized.

Here's T.J. Mathews of the National Center for Health Statistics.

T.J. MATHEWS: This is a larger change in a shorter time period, so it is something to notice.

STEIN: Now, the increase isn't happening among all women. It's really happening mostly among a very specific group - white women ages 35 and older. Home births jumped 36 percent among these women. Why? Eugene Declercq of Boston University says many of these women really want to avoid getting a cesarean and other medical treatments they may not need.

EUGENE DECLERCQ: It may be that older mothers who have had the experience of having had a hospital birth now want to experience a home birth because of whatever they experienced in that first birth.

STEIN: And...

DECLERCQ: It may be they're more comfortable challenging the system.

STEIN: Whatever the reason, the trend is being welcomed by those who think home births are a better choice for many women. Katherine Prown is an advocate for midwives.

KATHERINE PROWN: It's as safe for women who are at low risk as a hospital birth for low risk women, but with significantly reduced rates of preterm birth, low birth weight, unnecessary cesarean sections and also very high rates of maternal satisfaction.

STEIN: But there's a lot of debate about the safety of home births. For many women with uncomplicated pregnancies, it can often be a fine alternative, but when complications occur, the results can be devastating.

Amy Tuteur is an obstetrician/gynecologist and a vocal critic of home births.

AMY TUTEUR: If nothing goes wrong, everything will be fine, but if something bad happens, if that happens at home, you're taking a risk.

STEIN: There are really two big concerns. Making sure whoever is helping deliver the baby is qualified to spot a problem quickly and getting to the hospital in time when a life threatening complication does occur.

Here's George Macones of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

GEORGE MACONES: Sometimes, there are emergencies that you need to respond to in, you know, just a couple of minutes to ensure that the baby is doing OK and those are the ones that we really worry about.

STEIN: Miller, the Washington yoga instructor, had a long, tough labor, but her daughter Ruby was born safely.

MILLER: Oh, my goodness, I am so grateful, I can't tell you. I was able to have my daughter at home. I was able to have a peaceful and supported natural child birth experience. She was born in our nice, cozy bedroom. I know, you're so vocal.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY)

STEIN: Rob Stein, NPR News.

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