Does Giving Birth in the Great Outdoors Push the Limits?


When you envision the great outdoors, you might picture sitting quietly on a mountaintop, hiking through a national park, riding horseback on the edge of the mountains, stargazing or even camping. But have you ever thought about giving birth in the great outdoors?

I’m a mom, a registered nurse, and an administrative supervisor for obstetrics and gynecology with experience supervising the antepartum unit, labor & delivery, postpartum and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in an urban medical center. Giving birth outside a hospital never crossed my mind.

For some women, though, giving birth outside a hospital is their first choice. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.36% of U.S. births in 2012 took place outside of the hospital. In 2012, out-of-hospital births made up 3 to 6% of births in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington, and 2 to 3% of births in Delaware, Indiana, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin.

For Linda and Lance King of Utah, not only have they thought about birthing in the outdoors, they experienced it. You will see their journey in a future episode in a provocative new Lifetime reality show, Born in the Wild. It documents six couples who travel to the wilderness and wait for the birth of their baby.

In a recent interview, Linda King shared her story about her decision to deliver her third baby in a tent on a mountainside that overlooks Salt Lake City, Utah. “Birthing outdoors isn’t for everybody,” said King. Her first child was delivered in a hospital, and she said her experience there was “awesome.” She felt that since her delivery was uneventful and delivered without medication, she wanted to deliver her second child in a birthing center, which she did. Having experienced both hospital and birthing center, King decided with her husband, Lance, that they would deliver their third child in the wilderness with cameras documenting their experience.

“This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision,” said King. She and her husband prepared extensively for a birth outdoors. After interviewing numerous midwives, they chose an experienced midwife they felt comfortable with. Linda and her husband formed a partnership with the midwife and developed the birth plan together, making sure they knew what to do in case of an emergency.

While this may not have been a spur-of-the-moment decision, it’s not one recommended by most professional medical organizations. The American Medical Association has made a formal statement that “the safest setting for labor, delivery and the immediate postpartum period is in the hospital.” That conclusion was based on some evidence that birth at home may be more dangerous for the mother and newborn and based on the fact that quality and competency can vary dramatically between midwives.

The Committee on Obstetric Practice position statement says “hospitals and birthing centers are the safest setting for birth, but that it respects the right of a woman to make a medically informed decision about delivery. Women inquiring about planned home birth should be informed of its risks and benefits based on recent evidence.”

Yoshi Stone, the producer of Born in the Wild, said their production team reached out to women who were already making these choices and asked them to be part of the documentary. None of them were first-time parents. “Everyone was in their comfort zone,” he said. “They all had birth plans that involved hospitals in the event of a transfer. We made sure we were in a safe radius.” The show’s aim isn’t to persuade women to give birth in the wild, but instead to document what women are already doing.

Stone also confirmed “there was medevac on standby if something did go wrong.” For the first episode following Audrey Bird, medevac was waiting when she went into labor and was alerted to her. There were satellite phones available.

“Our approach with every couple was to make sure they were always in the lead. It was always our intention to document their process and the choices that they were making and not try to influence them in any way. It was not our place to make medical decisions on their behalf,” Stone said. “Couples made the choice to do this and we always did our due diligence to make sure that our involvement wasn’t increasing any risk.”

While the idea of an outdoor birth might seem idyllic, it’s important to remember that your health and safety and the wellbeing of the newborn are paramount to any romantic ideas you might have. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say:

“With careful planning, a home birth can be a positive and rewarding experience. Keep in mind, however, that life-threatening problems can occur during labor and delivery without warning. In those cases, the need to transfer you and your baby to a hospital could delay care, which could put your lives at risk. Understanding the risks and benefits of a home birth can help you make an informed decision about how you plan to give birth.”

While the production is provocative, Stone hopes people can get past the initial shock. “It’s my hope that people give the show a chance,” he said. “The goal is to begin a conversation.”

Giving birth outside a hospital is unconventional, but this show may begin a discussion on in-hospital births versus out-of-hospital births. Whatever your perspective, remember that the most important factor is the safety of mom and baby.