At an historic Home Birth Consensus Summit in Virginia last month on “The Future of Home Birth in the United States: Addressing Shared Responsibility,” a group of 68 national and international experts developed nine key common ground statements that provide a foundation for continued dialogue and collaboration across sectors in the maternity care field.
The statements were posted this week at Home Birth Summit, along with comment about the scope and context of the meeting. The site also includes information about why the summit was necessary and the process involved in reaching consensus. Action plans relating to these statements will be posted soon.
As one of the participants in the three-day summit, I was impressed with our collective commitment — despite different perspectives and areas of disagreement about out-of-hospital birth — to a common goal of improving maternal and newborn care for families choosing to give birth at home or in freestanding birth centers.
Mark Sloan, a pediatrician and writer who attended the summit, briefly explains the history of home birth in United States, offering context for why the summit marks a significant moment: “The representatives of all the major midwifery organizations — MANA (Midwives Alliance of North America) and ACNM (American College of Nurse-Midwives) — as well as ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics), and the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) sat together in the same room to discuss home birth for probably the first time in history.”
One of the agreed-upon statements emphasized our belief that “collaboration within an integrated maternity care system is essential for optimal mother-baby outcomes. All women and families planning a home or birth center birth have a right to respectful, safe, and seamless consultation, referral, transport and transfer of care when necessary. When ongoing inter-professional dialogue and cooperation occur, everyone benefits.”
The ninth and last statement reads: “We recognize and affirm the value of physiologic birth for women, babies, families and society and the value of appropriate interventions based on the best available evidence to achieve optimal outcomes for mothers and babies.”
Other statements address improving the current liability system, the licensure of maternity care professionals, increased participation by consumers in multi-stakeholder initiatives, and the creation of an equitable maternity care system without disparities in access, delivery of care, or outcomes. See below for the full list.
The remarkable collegiality and constructive dialogue among the stakeholders present enabled the group to develop these nine core principles as well as commit to a variety of future collaborations. This is an important first step towards achieving improved outcomes for childbearing women and their families in this country.
As Saraswathi Vedam, director of the Division of Midwifery at the University of British Columbia and chair of the Home Birth Consensus Summit Steering Committee, noted: “When you have an issue as controversial as home birth, there are always going to be differences of opinion among various types of providers, policy-makers and even among consumers. But all of us recognize that for women who choose home birth, it’s our shared responsibility to work toward policies that will make that choice as safe as possible.”
Summit participants included obstetricians, family physicians and midwives, non-professionals serving in advocacy roles, insurers, attorneys, ethicists, administrators, policy makers, researchers, and others with expertise in epidemiology, public health, midwifery, obstetrics, pediatrics, nursing, sociology, medical anthropology, law, and health policy research.
We invite your comments on the statements below.
We uphold the autonomy of all childbearing women.
All childbearing women, in all maternity care settings, should receive respectful, woman-centered care. This care should include opportunities for a shared decision-making process to help each woman make the choices that are right for her. Shared decision making includes mutual sharing of information about benefits and harms of the range of care options, respect for the woman’s autonomy to make decisions in accordance with her values and preferences, and freedom from coercion or punishment for her choices.
We believe that collaboration within an integrated maternity care system is essential for optimal mother-baby outcomes. All women and families planning a home or birth center birth have a right to respectful, safe, and seamless consultation, referral, transport and transfer of care when necessary. When ongoing inter-professional dialogue and cooperation occur, everyone benefits.
We are committed to an equitable maternity care system without disparities in access, delivery of care, or outcomes. This system provides culturally appropriate and affordable care in all settings, in a manner that is acceptable to all communities.
We are committed to an equitable educational system without disparities in access to affordable, culturally appropriate, and acceptable maternity care provider education for all communities.
It is our goal that all health professionals who provide maternity care in home and birth center settings have a license that is based on national certification that includes defined competencies and standards for education and practice.
We believe that guidelines should:
allow for independent practice
facilitate communication between providers and across care settings
encourage professional responsibility and accountability, and
include mechanisms for risk assessment.
We believe that increased participation by consumers in multi-stakeholder initiatives is essential to improving maternity care, including the development of high quality home birth services within an integrated maternity care system.
Effective communication and collaboration across all disciplines caring for mothers and babies are essential for optimal outcomes across all settings.
To achieve this, we believe that all health professional students and practitioners who are involved in maternity and newborn care must learn about each other’s disciplines, and about maternity and health care in all settings.
We are committed to improving the current medical liability system, which fails to justly serve society, families, and health care providers and contributes to:
inadequate resources to support birth injured children and mothers;
unsustainable healthcare and litigation costs paid by all;
a hostile healthcare work environment;
inadequate access to home birth and birth center birth within an integrated health care system, and;
restricted choices in pregnancy and birth.
We envision a compulsory process for the collection of patient (individual) level data on key process and outcome measures in all birth settings. These data would be linked to other data systems, used to inform quality improvement, and would thus enhance the evidence basis for care.
We recognize and affirm the value of physiologic birth for women, babies, families and society and the value of appropriate interventions based on the best available evidence to achieve optimal outcomes for mothers and babies.