Worried About an Emergency Home Birth Arising? Here’s How to Handle It

My birth stories for my girls, particularly my eldest, were weird enough. I never imagined anything weirder until I heard my friend Elaine’s accidental home birth story.

Elaine had already had a son, Michael, with zero complications the traditional way in the hospital. Michael was about 3 at the time. Elaine’s husband, Greg, was preparing for a business trip. I always say Elaine has the best luck, for if this had happened any later in the day, Greg would’ve already left.

Lucky for Elaine, Greg was still there. “I remember telling him that I felt funny, I was in pain all over, and it felt like I was in labor, and he kept asking if I was sure. Almost on cue, my water dribbled down my legs like a river. At the time, it wasn’t funny when Michael was like, ‘Mommy made a pee pee!’ but now we laugh about it all the time,” she told me.

For Elaine, she had plans at the hospital, but things were progressing too quickly. Greg remembered that one of their new neighbors was a midwife, and he literally ran down the street to bang on her door. Another lucky thing for Elaine was that the midwife was at home, having her morning coffee.

Elaine delivered Alessia with relative ease thanks to the midwife and Greg, though not every accidental home birth story works out so well. An unplanned home birth might be your worst nightmare. For me, my worst nightmare would have been giving birth in the back of the taxi on the way to the hospital in China.

home birth mom with baby

Giving birth at home isn’t all that common in the US. While it can be a great way to deliver for some, especially with a doula and midwife by your side, it does bear greater risks. I’ll list those risks further down as some of us should never consider a home birth because of them.

But Leslie, what if I have an emergency home birth?

Listen, Mama, I get it. I worried about everything when I was pregnant with both kids. And if this is your first baby you’re about to have, I understand all the more. You can read about my birth story if you’d like to calm yourself down a bit (and laugh while you’re at it).

I might not have my own accidental home birth story, but I know what to do if you have an unexpected home birth, so let’s talk about that.

What to do if you accidentally give birth at home?

Again, I want you to know that unplanned home birth is very rare. It’s dramatic, so it makes for good movies or TV shows. An episode of Beverly Hills 90210 featured Brandon, the do-gooder, and his girlfriend du jour, Susan, getting stuck in an elevator with a pregnant woman after an earthquake. Naturally, they help her deliver the baby, and everything works well.

The key is to listen to your body. Signs of labor 24 hours ago are easy to realize when you look back. When my water broke, I hurried to the hospital. My contractions were so far apart, and I wasn’t dilated. I won’t drone on about that here (you can read it over here instead), but usually, if you feel an overwhelming urge to push it out (and I know this is gross, but like that feeling you get when you have an over-saturated tampon you need to change), then your baby is about ready to come out.

If you have had speedy labors for your first child, it’s important to be ready to move out the door to your hospital or birthing center fast because this child will likely follow suit.

If you can’t make it, perhaps you’re not lucky like Elaine, and your husband isn’t home, you’re alone, or even stuck with little kids running around. Here’s what you should do…

  • Go unlock your front door

If you’re alone, this is the first thing you should do so you can get help.

  • Call 911

Ideally, do this at the same time you’re unlocking the door. Let them know that you’re about to have a baby and need help.

  • Get help from your squad

Next up on the who-to-call list, you’ll want to call your spouse and any family, friends, or neighbors who can get to you quickly and help. If not, proceed to call your doctor or midwife and doula. They will help guide you until medical professionals arrive.

  • Grab all the towels and linens you can find

They’ll be ruined, so try to grab stuff you don’t care about, but really in the end, you can replace it. Birthing is messy, and you’ll want to put something underneath you and have the rest within arms’ reach so you can cover your baby and yourself.

  • Be ready for action

You’ll need to remove your bottoms completely. You may feel more comfortable draping a towel over your lower region as you lie down or sit propped up somewhere in your home. Giving birth at home standing up is not recommended as your baby could fall out and be injured.

  • Try to delay it until help arrives

Remember the breathing techniques you learned? Try to engage with those instead of giving in to that overwhelming urge to push. You want to keep the baby in there until help comes for you.


And what if the baby arrives before the help? You’ll want to try to bring the baby to your breast to nurse if that umbilical cord can stay slack. Another thing to do is to firmly rub your baby up and down on the back to stimulate breathing if they aren’t doing so independently. You may need to engage in mouth-to-mouth.

Ultimately, the biggest thing here is that you must stay calm. And remember, again, it is improbable this will happen to you, my dear. We’ve got enough worries to carry around, but it is always nice to know what to do in the event of an emergency.

Oh, and don’t forget about that placenta. You’ll have to deliver that out separately, so sit in place. It will come, but you’ll typically have received assistance by then.

What if something goes wrong during a home birth?

Even planned home births have the potential for something to go wrong. There’s a higher risk of seizure and death than in hospital births. As such, it’s why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has said that it’s safest to give birth at hospitals or accredited birth centers. It can be safe when you have a planned home birth, but it bears a higher risk, so please know this before making your birth plan.

As Elaine has proven, sometimes life is indeed what happens when you make other plans. So, what do you do if something goes wrong? If you don’t already have help on the way, you need to call 911 immediately.

In the unusual event that you have an emergency home birth, calling 911 as soon as you can is the best way to handle it. Until help arrives, you need to try to stay calm.

How to be prepared for an accidental home birth?

Well, how can you prepare for an unplanned home birth if it’s an accident? Talk it over with your spouse and any close relatives, friends, or neighbors for peace of mind. Knowing that they will be ready to jump in should this happen to you should immediately put you at ease.

Plus, everyone will know their role. For example, if you live a little further from any hospital or birthing center, knowing that your neighbors will be there to help you if you need it may be all you need. It may help to give them a spare key so they can get to you in the event you can’t unlock the door yourself.

Another thing…put your least favorite towels and sheets in one place that you can easily access. This way, you can just grab them and spread them out.

Also, have those numbers handy and posted on your phone or in a common, easy place like on your refrigerator door. These numbers should have your doctor, midwife, spouse, and anyone else you need to contact for this unexpected home birth.

All you can do is prepare in the event of an emergency, though. Worrying about this will not help a bit. Much like worrying about whether a storm will come and wipe out the power, all you can do is be ready with your plans in place and ready should you need to use them.

Birth certificates and other documents can still be taken care of too. You can ask your midwife or doctor about that and what else you need to do to put these things in place. It will vary by state.

Do you go to the hospital after a home birth?

You may want to get checked out after your accidental home birth. If you have your doctor come on-site, he or she may be able to clear you. However, with home birth – even a planned one – you may need to be taken to the hospital if labor is stalling, your baby is in distress or a different position, you’re in pain, your bleeding is excessive, or you have high blood pressure.

nurse with mom after c-section

Home birth is a very concerning choice for some of you with specific health issues. The ACOG advises that you should avoid an unplanned home birth (or even a planned one) if any of the following things apply to you:

  • You have high blood pressure
  • Your doctor diagnosed you with gestational diabetes
  • You are over the age of 35 (considered advanced maternal age)
  • You’ve gone into labor before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • Your placenta would come out first (called placenta previa)
  • You’ve given birth via c-section previously
  • There’s abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • You actively have genital herpes
  • The baby is in breach
  • The umbilical cord is prolapsed
  • The baby has shown inadequate growth

How much is a home birth out of pocket?

Here are some stats for you, courtesy of Today Health. Only about 35,000 home births occur in the US. That’s about 1%, including planned and unplanned home births.

As such, knowing how much it will cost you is essential. This will depend on your insurance as well as your location. To find out, you should call your insurance company to find out what would happen if you had an unexpected home birth.

Currently, 33 states cover birth center deliveries, while just 21 cover home births with a Medicaid program. Should your insurance not cover the home birth, you may have to pay $3,000 to $9,000 out of pocket. Many midwives are working at reduced or even free to assist any pregnant woman without insurance, so if you genuinely need help, you just need to look for it in your area. I’d start with the call to the insurance and then, if that doesn’t help, ask your doctor or midwife for direction.

Final thoughts on giving birth at home…

It never does a bit of good to stress and worry about something that may or may not happen, especially when you’re pregnant! So please, just incorporate these tips into your planning; most likely, you will not need them. But if you do, everyone in your household and immediate family/area will be ready to help you in your time of need.

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