Home birth fall 'disappointing'
The proportion of women giving birth at home has fallen slightly in England, according to new figures.
The National Childbirth Trust and the Royal College of Midwives said the drop in the home birth rate, from 2.9% in 2008, to 2.7% in 2009, was "disappointing".
The figures also show an increase in multiple births.
This was most marked in women over 45, where around one in ten had twins, triplets, quads or more.
Recent government policy has been to give women choice over where to give birth - whether in hospital, at home or in a birthing centre run by midwives.
It followed a dramatic fall in births at home in the UK in the last 30 years.
In the 60s, around one in three women gave birth at home. This fell to a record low of one in a hundred home births by the late eighties.
The proportion of home births has risen slightly every year since then, with a small decrease between 2008 and 2009, according to the figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
In England, 17,834 women (2.7%) had a home birth in 2009, down from 2.8% of home births in 2008.
Wales fared better, with 3.8% of 34,574 births at home, an increase over the previous year.
In Scotland, 873 women (1.5%) had a home birth, out of 59,363 births. And in Northern Ireland, 91 women (0.4%) had home births out of a total of around 25,000 births.
Cathy Warwick, General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said the drop in the home birth rate was "a real disappointment".
She said: "These figures suggest to me that we are not providing the choice that women want and deserve, and that commissioners are not doing enough to offer them that choice.
"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 home birth rate is so low and why it is falling."
Mary Newburn, of the charity The National Childbirth Trust, said they believed women were finding it more difficult to book a home birth.
She said: "There is no evidence of a reduction in demand, but we know maternity services are additionally stretched due to a rising birth rate and too few midwives.
"The option of booking a home birth should be offered as a mainstream option for all women who want it, alongside options to book for care at a birth centre and at a hospital maternity unit."
The ONS figures show that overall, births fell in 2009, the first annual decrease since 2001.
There were 706,248 births in England and Wales in 2009, down from 708,711 in 2008, a 0.3% decrease.