A court in Vigo, in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, is considering whether to press charges against parents who opted to have a home birth without any medical assistance.
The couple wanted their second child to be born at home like their first, which had been a positive experience. But the decision this time led to the worst possible outcome: the death of the baby.
It is not typical to give birth at home, even less so without medical assistance
Elena Gil, advocacy group
In this case, the baby was in breech presentation (feet or buttocks first), a high-risk position that is treated in hospital because these births require the support of gynecologists, not just midwives. The parents ended up calling emergency services and the 33-year-old mother and newborn were taken to Álvaro Cunqueiro Hospital.
When emergency services arrived at the home, no health professional was present, according to the local daily La Voz de Galicia. According to this news outlet, the official statement made by the hospital to the court stated that the woman had refused to see a gynecologist in the last month of the pregnancy and had instead gone to a person who was not a trained health worker.
Galicia’s emergency services received the call on Monday at 2pm. Two ambulances were sent to the home and took the mother and child to the hospital. The baby was already dead, according to Galicia’s Health Service (Sergas).
“It is not typical to give birth at home, even less so without medical assistance,” says Elena Gil, spokesperson for O Parto é Noso (Childbirth is Ours), a non-profit feminist organization that campaigns to improve conditions for women during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.
Gil says that most women in Galicia and Spain who decide to have a home birth are “very well informed” and do it with medical assistance. “They hire midwives who come to the homes with the technology needed to solve possible complications,” she explains.
When emergency services arrived at the home, no health professional was present
What’s more, midwives only agree to do a home birth when the pregnancy is low risk – never in cases of breech presentation like the one in Vigo, says Gil. According to the spokesperson, the number of women who choose to have a home birth is very low. “Not even 10%, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), which also includes deliveries that happen suddenly at home and are not a personal choice.”
Gil believes home births “are as safe as giving birth at hospital when the risk is low and a health professional is present with all the necessary resources.”
On whether the mother in Vigo purposely missed her last gynecologist appointment, the organization does not want to speculate. “The birth could have come early without the the woman having the option of going to the last check-up; we have to be cautious given the lack of concrete information.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.
Supreme Court warns against negligence
In March, the Spanish Supreme Court upheld a 15-year prison sentence against a couple for the death of their newborn daughter. The couple had decided to have a home birth without medical assistance, and the baby died when she did not receive the necessary care and was not brought to a doctor when her symptoms worsened.
The Supreme Court ruling warned that parents who opt for these types of home births may be found negligent if the newborn is injured as a result of their choice. “A birth, while being a natural act, can present severe risks to the mother and the newborn baby, which means that duty of care must be upheld,” the sentence read.