Home sweet home birth: Small rise in home births in Singapore

Memorable moment as family celebrates arrival of baby in their very own home

In a dim room scented with essential oils, Ms Katharine Tan-Sinha was surrounded by her loved ones as she awaited the arrival of her second child.

After about two hours of labour, baby David was born on May 16 - not in a hospital but in Ms Tan-Sinha's three-room flat in Shunfu.

The 30-year-old housewife and her husband, Mr Michael Yeoh, 30, an investment adviser, had prepared for a home birth as they thought their baby would arrive quickly, just as their first-born did in 2013 - within three hours of labour.

"I've always wanted a home birth since I learnt about it in my university days in Australia," said Ms Tan-Sinha. "I did a module in the sociology of reproduction and learnt about the alternatives to hospital births. I was really inspired then. I wanted to be able to give birth at home as well, and do it myself with zero intervention, if possible."

There has been a small rise in the number of home births in Singapore, according to provisional figures from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

Home births, both planned and unplanned, accounted for 107 of 42,263 live births, or 0.25 per cent, last year, compared with 57 home births out of 38,317 live births, or 0.15 per cent, in 2006.

Despite the slight increase, home births are still rare in Singapore, perhaps due to the risks involved.

Doctors The Straits Times spoke to said the lack of proper medical equipment is a problem should complications arise during delivery.

Dr Elisa Koh, an obstetrician and gynaecologist from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said: "I have seen things go wrong in labour, and when they do, every second counts in trying to achieve a good outcome for the mother and baby.

"Problems like excessive bleeding after delivery also require immediate medical attention and resuscitation. The patient can lose enough blood to lose consciousness and be brain-damaged in an hour."

Dr Shephali Tagore, head and senior consultant of the Peripartum Unit of the Department of Maternal Fetal Medicine at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said there is "no strong evidence that the benefits of planned home births outweigh the associated medical risks or that they result in a more positive perinatal and maternal outcome".

"Therefore, we do not recommend home birthing," she added.

Ms Tan-Sinha and her husband, however, were undeterred and went ahead with it. Their decision was not a blind leap of faith, though. Ms Tan-Sinha said: "Having experienced giving birth to my baby at home this time, I appreciate that I was not confined by any protocols or guidelines of hospitals.

"That said, if I had any health issues that deemed me unfit for birthing where I needed to, I would not have even considered birthing outside the hospital as an option."

She consulted a gynaecologist during her pregnancy and enlisted the help of Ms Warda Yusoff, 38, a certified doula, and made sure their preparations were thorough.

Ms Tan-Sinha's mother, Ms Laura Tan, 65, a trained nurse, as well as pre- and post-natal massage therapist Nik Adis, 60, were also present during the delivery to lend a hand.

They got ready medical equipment such as oxygen tank and mask, suction machine with tube, cord clamps and medical scissors. Essential items including pillows, towels, blankets, waterproof sheets to lay on the bed and a yoga ball were on hand to make the labour more comfortable.

Said Ms Tan-Sinha of the home birth: "It was a magical experience having my loved ones and close friends who journeyed with me during my pregnancy present, and to have my mother catch my own child in the peace, serenity and warmth of my own home."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2016, with the headline 'Home sweet home birth'. Print Edition | Subscribe