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20 April 2012, 05:00
University of Oxford researchers say it's safe for women at low risk of complication to give birth at home, also saving the NHS money.
They looked at the circumstances of 64,000 births between 2008 and 2010, finding women with a low risk of complications could give birth at home or at a midwifery unit and it was healthy for both the mother and child.
The study looked at the relative costs of healthy births in different settings.
It found that a planned birth in a hospital obstetric unit is the most expensive option for mothers who already have children, costing £1,142 per woman, with a planned home birth the cheapest, at £780 per woman.
For women who have not had children before, a planned birth in a midwifery unit would also save money when compared with a planned birth in an obstetric unit.
The researchers found that a planned birth at home for such women was also cost-saving, but said it was "associated with poorer outcomes for the baby''.
Health economist Liz Schroder, a co-author of the study, said:
"At the time of the study, only half of the NHS trusts in England provided women with access to a midwifery unit, and occupancy levels were often low.
"The findings of the birthplace study may encourage women - particularly women having a second or subsequent baby - to request an 'out of hospital' birth.
"And the potential for cost savings could make offering women more choice an attractive option for the NHS.''
The study looked at births in obstetric units, midwifery units located in the same hospital as an obstetric unit, free-standing midwifery units and home.
They assessed NHS costs associated with the birth, including care during labour, the cost of any stay in hospital, the cost of pain relief and any medical procedures needed in the case of complications.