More parents opting to give birth at home

Home births now more popular, but doctors warn they can be unsafe

Dr Teoh Ren Shang and his wife Victoria with their son Xavier, who was born in the master bedroom of their HDB flat. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN
Dr Teoh Ren Shang and his wife Victoria with their son Xavier, who was born in the master bedroom of their HDB flat. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

Four weeks ago, Xavier Teoh was born in the master bedroom of his parents' Housing Board flat.

Not because it was an emergency. His parents chose to have their first-born at home.

"Why should we make something natural, unnatural?" said his father, Dr Teoh Ren Shang, a senior resident physician at Ang Mo Kio Community Hospital.

"Hospitals are not as intimate and familiar as the home, where you are in control of the atmosphere."

While home births remain a small minority - 104 out of about 40,000 live births took place in a residence last year - the trend seems to be catching on.

Last year's figure was the highest in at least a decade, during which the number of home births generally ranged between 60 and 80 a year.

But the association involved in training obstetricians and gynaecologists in Singapore, and which sets standards for them, warned that unassisted home births are "unsafe and should be avoided".

The Teohs did have an obstetrician with them - Dr Lai Fon-Min - who is also a gynaecologist, and has his own private practice.

Still, the College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said that even planned home births may pose a risk to both mother and child.

Problems such as post-delivery bleeding, for instance, may arise. Such a situation would require "immediate access to resources in the hospital... regardless of the expertise of the attendant", the college said in a statement.

The college's president, Dr Tan Hak Koon, said any decision to give birth at home must take into consideration the possibility of unexpected complications, even for mothers "without any known obstetric risk factors".

When contacted, public hospitals in Singapore also said they do not offer home birth services for similar reasons.

Dr Shephali Tagore of the KK Women's and Children's Hospital said: "We believe that a safe delivery should not be taken for granted, and is best conducted in a hospital with access to emergency care should the need arise."

The Teohs acknowledged that their choice, made after plenty of research, was not without its risks.

Their obstetrician told them they would have to return to hospital if anything became "a bit abnormal" during labour.

And when Mrs Victoria Teoh began going into labour, the couple visited their doctor for a final check-up before returning home to have the baby.

During labour, they were also attended by two doulas - trained birth coaches who provide emotional and physical support.

One of them was Ms Ginny Phang from doula agency Four Trimesters, who has been assisting with home births since 2002.

When she started out, she used to see only three to five such births a year. Now, she handles one every one or two months.

While her company has attended to more than 800 births, only three to five were transferred to hospital due to problems with labour, she said.

"We offer a more tailored approach," she said. "In hospitals, everything is a 'one size fits all' (approach). But not all mothers need the same thing."

As for the Teohs, the best part was how Dr Teoh, 34, was involved in welcoming his son.

"He caught the baby. He cut the cord," Mrs Teoh, 28, said. "It was priceless."

Additional reporting by Laura Ng Si-Shuen

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