Dr Mary Stewart made the argument while giving the Zepherina Veitch Memorial Lecture at the University of York.
She discussed the findings of the landmark Birthplace
study, which revealed that low-risk women giving birth in an obstetric unit only have a 57.6% chance of a normal birth.
While those who give birth at home have an 87.9% chance of a normal birth.
Dr Stewart said: ‘This is one of the figures from the study, which I think is the most stark, but it has received little attention.'
She admitted though that home birth numbers, which dropped dramatically from 1960 to 1975, are unlikely to rise dramatically.
‘Home birth is only ever going to be chosen by a small amount of women,’ she said.
‘I don’t think that is going to change significantly in my lifetime – I wish it would, but I don’t think that it will.’
Her talk at the sold-out event covered the fact that over recent years, there has been an increase in the options for where women can give birth.
In 2007, 66% of trusts in England only offered the option of birth in an obstetric unit, while just 3.3% offered a full compliment of obstetric unit, freestanding and alongside midwifery unit.
By 2010, less than half of trusts (49%) only offered obstetric units and those offering the full range had increased to 8.8%.
Dr Stewart said that the increase, although slight, was good news, but stressed that in the current financial climate it is hard to persuade the government to spend cash on improving midwifery services.
‘The demands on the NHS are always going to outstrip the budget – that’s a given,’ she said.
‘There are hard decisions to be made and there will be unpopular decisions and we won’t always get what we want.’
She said it was particularly hard because of competition from other under-resourced areas of the NHS, such as mental health and care for the elderly.