Giving birth at a birth centre or midwife-led unit
Birthing centres or midwifery units are run by midwives without the medical facilities of a hospital.
They can be next to a main hospital maternity unit (‘alongside’) or completely separate from hospital (‘freestanding’). Because most women can give birth without needing medical interventions, these units can be a good choice as an alternative to hospital birth. However, if complications arise during your pregnancy or labour you may be advised to change your plan and give birth at an obstetric unit.
You can use this handy tool to find out what your choices are for birth in your area.
Birth centre or a midwife-led unit: pros and cons
Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), updated in December 2014, supports your right to be informed about your options and choose where you have your baby - be that in a midwifery unit, at home or on a hospital labour ward. The NICE guidance advises that planning to give birth at home or in a midwifery unit is particularly suitable for women with straightforward pregnancies who have already had a baby. For women with straightforward pregnancies who are expecting their first baby, it is advised that planning to give birth in a midwifery unit is particularly suitable, but that there is a small increase in risk for the baby if they plan birth at home.
The advantages of having your baby at a birth centre or midwifery unit include:
- Being in surroundings where you may feel more relaxed and able to cope with labour.
- You're more likely to be looked after by a midwife that you have got to know during your pregnancy.
- You will usually be able to be in the same room for your whole stay, with your partner.
- You are more likely to have a straightforward birth without medical interventions.
If you decide to use a midwifery unit you will not be offered any surgical or anaesthetic care, such as an epidural or a caesarean section.
If you need further care or if your labour is not progressing well, you can choose to be transferred to the nearest obstetric unit. This may be on the same site or may involve a journey by ambulance.
Ask your midwife where you are likely to be transferred to if you do need more specialist care.
You can change your mind
Remember, you can change your mind at any time during your pregnancy, even during labour. If you have booked into a birth centre, you can decide to stay at home, or if you have booked a home birth you can decide to go to hospital.
Ultimately, the best environment for you to have your baby in is one where you will feel safe, comfortable and relaxed.
Page last updated: December 2014
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, having your baby and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about pregnancy, labour and life with a new baby.
The results of the Birthplace study were released in December 2011 and provide useful information for parents about their choices regarding locations and facilities.
BirthChoiceUK provides information on choosing maternity care to help parents make the right choice for them.
AIMS provides independent support and information about maternity choices.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council provides useful information on the role of the midwife and your choices regarding where you want to have your baby.
NHS Choices provides information about choosing where to have your baby.