The number of women in England and Wales giving birth at home is falling - in spite of efforts to encourage "choice", according to new figures released yesterday.
The latest figures dismayed midwife leaders, who have campaigned for more support for home births. But they may reflect controversy about the risks of home birth - including some
outspoken criticisms from some senior doctors.
Senior midwife Cathy Warwick said: "My worry is that increasing pressures and demands being made on midwives and maternity services are driving out choice for women.
"There is a real need to look behind these figures to find out why our homebirth rate is so low and why it is falling."
Last year just 2.7 per cent of women gave birth at home - compared with 2.9 per cent the previous year.
In 1959 as many as one third of babies were born at home - but this slumped to a miniscule number, 0.9 per cent by the mid-1980s. Until recently the numbers had increased annually.
Home birth is most popular among women in their late 30s - some 3.8 per cent choose this course, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Professor Warwick, the general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, added: "Even though it is a small one, the drop in the homebirth rate is a real disappointment, particularly because the UK already has a very low rate compared to many other countries."
She added: "There are many great examples of midwifery teams who buck this trend and have very good homebirth rates, often in areas of high social deprivation where this may perhaps be least expected.
"We should be looking to their work and methods to reverse this trend, so that mothers really do have a choice about where they give birth to their baby."