Where you decide to give birth affects your experience. This article discusses the options available including giving birth at home, at a birth centre or at a hospital.
This article covers the following topics:
Giving birth in the UK is generally very safe wherever you choose to have your baby. The choice you have about where to have your baby will depend on your wishes, any needs for clinical support you may have and, to some extent, on where you live. You can use this handy tool to find out what your choices are for birth in your area.
Wherever you choose, the place should feel right for you.
Depending on your circumstances, your options regarding where you are going to have your baby are likely to be:
- A home birth.
- Birth in a local facility, which may be in a hospital or a freestanding unit, under the care of a midwife – this type of setting may be called a birth or birthing centre, a midwife-led unit (MLU), or a community maternity unit (CMU).
- Birth in a hospital supported by a maternity team including midwives, anaesthetists and obstetricians (doctors who specialise in pregnancy and childbirth when complications arise).
The majority of pregnant women are healthy with a straightforward pregnancy and it is equally safe for them to give birth in any of these places.
Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), updated in December 2014, also supports your right to be informed about your options and choose where you have your baby - be that in a midwife-led centre, at home or on a hospital labour ward. The NICE guidance advises that planning to give birth at home or in a midwifery led 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 led unit is particularly suitable, but that there is a small increase in risk for the baby if they plan birth at home.
It’s important that you and your partner have all the information you need to make your decision. Try to get information from as many sources as possible.
Your midwife will discuss the options that are available in your area. It is always a good idea to discuss your birth plan, which is a record of your choices, with your midwife and your partner.
In deciding where to give birth, you may find the results of the Birthplace Study 2011 from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) useful. The study compares planning to use a ‘midwifery unit’ or birth centre with planning a hospital birth. It also compares planning to have a home birth with planning for a hospital birth.
Another way to find out more about your local birth options is to attend an NCT antenatal course where you can get help with preparing for labour and having your baby. You will also meet other parents who may have helpful knowledge or ideas to share.
In addition, you can get information from children's centres, your GP’s surgery and local maternity units.
Your choice of birthing environment can affect many things when you have your baby. For instance, you are likely to have a better birth experience if you choose an option that gives you continuity of care – that is, being looked after by a single midwife or a small team of midwives. When you are making your choice about where your baby will be born:
- Find out about your local hospital so you can compare it with your other options.
- If you have a chance to look around your local maternity services, it’s helpful to go prepared with some questions to ask about what sort of care you can expect.
- Talk to as many people as you can: friends, family, other pregnant women and mums with young babies, midwives and your family doctor.
- Find out if you will have the chance to get to know a small group of midwives before you have your baby.
- Ask whether one of these midwives is likely to be present during your labour and birth.
- Ask if the unit is working with UNICEF UK’s Baby Friendly Initiative. These units will provide the best care and support to help you with feeding and caring for your baby.
This is your decision so feel confident about asking questions to help you choose.
Remember, you can change your mind at any time during your pregnancy, even during labour. If you have booked a hospital birth, you can decide to stay at home, or if you have booked a home birth you can decide to go to hospital.
During your pregnancy you can also usually choose to change your booking to another hospital, if you find a more appropriate service is offered.
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 having your baby, birth 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.
Take a look at the survey by Birthrights (the human rights in childbirth charity) - Dignity in Childbirth: Less Than Half of UK Women Have the Birth They Want published in October 2013.
The results of the Birthplace study were released in December 2011 and provide useful information for parents about their choices.
Which? and Birth ChoiceUK have developed a tool to help you find out what your choices are for giving birth in your area. This tool combines your preferences with research evidence to show the local options most suited to you.
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 for having your baby.
NHS Choices provides information about choosing where to give where to have your baby.