• birthing centers;
  • home childbirth;
  • delivery rooms;
  • economics

ABSTRACT: Background: It is widely perceived that home births and birth centers may help decrease the costs of maternity care for women with uncomplicated pregnancies and deliveries. This structured review examines the literature relating to the economic implications of home births and birth center care compared with hospital maternity care. Methods: The bibliographic databases MEDLINE (from 1950), CINAHL (from 1982), EMBASE (from 1980), and an “in-house” database, Econ2, were searched for relevant English language publications using MeSH and free text terms. Data were extracted with respect to the study design, inclusion criteria, clinical and cost results, and details of what was included in the cost calculations. Results: Eleven studies were included from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and Canada. Two studies focused on home births versus other forms and locations of care, whereas nine focused on birth centers versus other forms and locations of care. Resource use was generally lower for women cared for at home and in birth centers due to lower rates of intervention, shorter lengths of stay, or both. However, this fact did not always translate into lower costs because, in the U.K. where many studies were conducted, more midwives of a higher grade were employed to manage the birth centers than are usually employed in maternity units, and because of costs of converting existing facilities into delivery rooms. The quality of much of the literature was poor, although no studies were excluded for this reason. Selection bias was likely to be a problem in those studies not based on randomized controlled trials because, even where birth center eligibility was applied throughout, women who choose to deliver at home or in a birth center are likely to be different in terms of expectations and approach from women choosing to deliver in hospital. Conclusions: This review highlights the paucity of economic literature relating to home births and birth centers. Differences in results between studies may be attributed to differences in health care systems, differences in methods used, and differences in costs included. Further economic research that involves detailed bottom-up costing of alternative options for place of birth and measures multiple outcomes, including women’s preferences, would help address the question of whether out-of-hospital birth is beneficial in economic terms. (BIRTH 35:2 June 2008)