Home or hospital? COVID-19 spurs increased interest in out-of-hospital births

With hospitals here in Central Florida and across the country focused on fighting COVID-19, and limiting visitors for other patients, local midwives say they are seeing a huge increase in interest in out-of-hospital births.

ORLANDO, Fla. — With hospitals here in Central Florida and across the country focused on fighting COVID-19, and limiting visitors for other patients, local midwives say they are seeing a huge increase in interest in out-of-hospital births.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray spoke to a midwife and a mom-to-be about the choice, and breaks down how it still carries a risk.

Like all of us, Natasha Ramirez and her family are spending more time together at home. It’s there, in their Apopka home, where the family will grow in May.

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“It’s our third pregnancy, we are really excited,” Ramirez said. “Unfortunately, it is happening in the middle of all this craziness of COVID-19.”

Throughout her pregnancy, Ramirez had always planned to bring her baby boy into the world inside a hospital, with the same doctor who delivered her other two children. But with coronavirus consuming the focus of the healthcare system, concerns about coming into contact with sick patients, and the fear of giving birth alone, Ramirez made a choice to interview midwives about home birth.

“Not knowing if my partner was going to be there or not,” Ramirez said about her concerns. “It’s been very back and forth. You hear they can’t go in, you hear that they can, and not knowing if things could change. If they can go in today, will they be able to in a month?”

That brought her to licensed midwife Mary Suprenant, who has seen a spike in similar calls. She typically performs two or three home births a month, but now she’s at capacity with five scheduled each month through July.

“We’ve seen the growth, not only in my practice, but with the birth centers and other homebirth midwives in the area,” Suprenant said.

Ray first met Suprenant when she worked at a birth center in Orange County in 2019. At the time, a 9 Investigates analysis of state records found that over the course of three years, about 14% of mothers who tried to give birth at centers in Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Brevard counties ended up being rushed to the hospital. Those transfers were made for issues like failure to progress and pain management, and represent about 200 cases compared to more than 1,200 successful births.

A Central Florida couple is sharing their harrowing birth story after a recent analysis by Gatehouse Media found more Floridians are choosing to skip the hospital to have babies.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published a report showing babies born at home are two times more likely to die than those born at the hospital, warning moms-to-be should be selective about choosing home birth. The report also warns that midwives should be especially careful in choosing clients with low-risk factors.

Suprenant said that’s more important now than ever, with some expectant mothers hoping to avoid the hospitals at all costs.

“The home has to be a certain distance away from a hospital with the NICU unit, for safety,” Suprenant said. “That goes along with making sure our clients are low-risk. If they are low-risk, the chances of needing to transfer are very low.”

Ramirez has already done a drug-free birth, bringing her daughter into the world without an epidural. She feels confident she can do it again, from the comfort of home.

“Being at home, you have less control about what’s going to happen, you don’t have the medical supplies or the NICU,” Ramirez acknowledged. “But there was way more unknown going to the hospital right now, than there was staying at home, for us.”

Officials at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Children and Babies sent us this statement:

“We understand that expectant mothers may be apprehensive about delivering their babies at a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Winnie Palmer Hospital continues to be a safe environment for childbirth, with a wide range of experts available to care for the needs of both mother and baby. While patients are currently allowed only one support person as a guest, this policy is to ensure the safety of our babies, mothers and team members. We continue to follow the recommended guidelines and protocols from the CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.”