Background: Nearly half the world's babies are born at home. We sought to evaluate the training, knowledge, skills, and access to medical equipment and testing for home birth attendants across 7 international sites.Methods: Face-to-face interviews were done by trained interviewers to assess level of training, knowledge and practices regarding care during the antenatal, intrapartum and postpartum periods. The survey was administered to a sample of birth attendants conducting home or out-of-facility deliveries in 7 sites in 6 countries (India, Pakistan, Guatemala, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Zambia).Results: A total of 1226 home birth attendants were surveyed. Less than half the birth attendants were literate. Eighty percent had one month or less of formal training. Most home birth attendants did not have basic equipment (e.g., blood pressure apparatus, stethoscope, infant bag and mask manual resuscitator). Reporting of births and maternal and neonatal deaths to government agencies was low. Indian auxilliary nurse midwives, who perform some home but mainly clinic births, were far better trained and differed in many characteristics from the birth attendants who only performed deliveries at home.Conclusions: Home birth attendants in low-income countries were often illiterate, could not read numbers and had little formal training. Most had few of the skills or access to tests, medications and equipment that are necessary to reduce maternal, fetal or neonatal mortality. © 2012 Garces et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.