A poor initial birthing experience at a hospital, or fears of one, or just personal preference, have helped lead to a growing number of pregnant women opting for at-home births. The current pandemic has even more women looking to avoid medical facilities when their baby is due.

But help with expenses from health insurance companies is not guaranteed under everyone's individual plans, as it typically would be for birth at a hospital.

A proposed New Jersey law would require insurance coverage of homebirth services during this crisis and beyond.

"Birthing from home is actually a safe way to give birth. There's midwives and doulas involved, and they're licensed," said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, D-Essex, primary sponsor of the measure that's been referred to the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee.

"Many people have long advocated for women to be allowed the opportunity to give birth outside a hospital setting," Timberlake said. "This pandemic has only further emphasized the need for women to have alternative birthing arrangements if they so choose."

Timberlake said home births should be an option for more than just "the wealthiest mothers."

A study published in July 2019 found the number of at-home births increased by 77% nationally from 2004 to 2017. Researchers said the findings highlight the strong motivation of some women to choose out-of-hospital birth, despite factors such as lack of health insurance coverage.

"During this crisis, hospitals are not necessarily the safest place for a healthy pregnant person — especially for black women who already have higher mortality rates and who now find themselves in a healthcare system overwhelmed by a pandemic," said Rachel Connolly Kwock, founder of the Northern NJ Doula Network.

But Kwock advises against giving birth at home without the help of a medical professional.

"To help ensure the comfort and safety of mothers, I believe families should be supported in their option to plan a homebirth with a licensed midwife," Kwock said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.