Neonatal mortality in the United States is related to location of birth (hospital versus home) rather than the type of birth attendant

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2020 Aug;223(2):254.e1-254.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2020.01.045. Epub 2020 Feb 7.


Background: Planned home births have leveled off in the United States in recent years after a significant rise starting in the mid-2000s. Planned home births in the United States are associated with increased patient-risk profiles. Multiple studies concluded that, compared with hospital births, absolute and relative risks of perinatal mortality and morbidity in US planned home births are significantly increased.

Objective: To explore the safety of birth in the United States by comparing the neonatal mortality outcomes of 2 locations, hospital birth and home birth, by 4 types of attendants: hospital midwife; certified nurse-midwife at home; direct-entry ("other") midwife at home; and attendant at home not identified, using the most recent US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention natality data on neonatal mortality for planned home births in the United States. Outcomes are presented as absolute risks (neonatal mortality per 10,000 live births) and as relative risks of neonatal mortality (hospital-certified nurse-midwife odds ratio, 1) overall, and for recognized risk factors.

Study design: We used the most current US Centers for Disease and Prevention Control Linked Birth and Infant Death Records for 2010-2017 to assess neonatal mortality (neonatal death days 0-27 after birth) for single, term (37+ weeks), normal-weight ( >2499 g) infants for planned home births and hospital births by birth attendants: hospital-certified nurse-midwives, home-certified nurse-midwives, home other midwives (eg, lay or direct-entry midwives), and other home birth attendant not identified.

Results: The neonatal mortality for US hospital midwife-attended births was 3.27 per 10,000 live births, 13.66 per 10,000 live births for all planned home births, and 27.98 per 10,000 live births for unintended/unplanned home births. Planned home births attended by direct-entry midwives and by certified nurse-midwives had a significantly elevated absolute and relative neonatal mortality risk compared with certified nurse-midwife-attended hospital births (hospital-certified nurse-midwife: 3.27/10,000 live births odds ratio, 1; home birth direct-entry midwives: neonatal mortality 12.44/10,000 live births, odds ratio, 3.81, 95% confidence interval, 3.12-4.65, P<.0001; home birth-certified nurse-midwife: neonatal mortality 9.48/10,000 live births, odds ratio, 2.90, 95% confidence interval, 2.90; P<.0001). These differences increased further when patients were stratified for recognized risk factors.

Conclusion: The safety of birth in the United States varies by location and attendant. Compared with US hospital births attended by a certified nurse-midwife, planned US home births for all types of attendants are a less safe setting of birth, especially when recognized risk factors are taken into account. The type of midwife attending US planned home birth appears to have no differential effect on decreasing the absolute and relative risk of neonatal mortality of planned home birth, because the difference in outcomes of US planned home births attended by direct-entry midwives or by certified nurse-midwives is not statistically significant.

Keywords: hospital births; midwives; neonatal deaths; neonatal mortality; planned home birth; safety.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Setting / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Home Childbirth / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intention
  • Midwifery / statistics & numerical data*
  • Nurse Midwives / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pregnancy
  • United States