Childbirth at home is as safe as in hospital – but the NHS needs 5,000 extra midwives for home births to become widespread, according to a spokeswoman.
Research in the Netherlands, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics, where one in three births take place at home, shows that death rates during the first 24 hours and the first week after birth are no different between home births and those that take place in hospital.
But, says Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM): "The NHS is simply not set up to meet the potential demand for home births, because we are still in a culture where the vast majority of births are in hospital."
Although the latest research was a "major step forward", she said, the UK is geared towards hospital births and would need a fundamental reorganisation to support more home births.
The RCM has said that an extra 5,000 fulltime midwives are needed to fulfil government pledges; and although ministers have promised an extra 3,400 by 2012, more are needed now, it says.
In England and Wales in 2006, 2.7% of births were at home – 18,100 of a total of 662,915 – according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).