Giving birth in a hospital

This article discusses hospital birth: what happens before, during and after. What are the pros and cons and what do you need to take when packing your hospital bag?

This article covers the following topics regarding giving birth at a hospital:

Why choose hospital birth?

Pros and cons of a hospital birth

Preparing for hospital birth

You can change your mind

Further information

One of your choices for birth is having your baby in a hospital supported by a maternity team including midwives, anaesthetists and obstetricians (doctors who specialise in pregnancy and childbirth when complications arise).

There are several thousand children born each year at every obstetric unit. The majority of women give birth in this type of location. You can use this handy tool to find out what your choices are for birth in your area.

Why choose hospital birth?

If a pregnant woman (or her unborn baby) is identified as having a health condition that may mean medical or surgical intervention is needed, she will be encouraged by her midwife to give birth in hospital.

Other women may choose an obstetric unit because there is no suitable birth centre or midwife unit within reach, and they do not wish to have a home birth.

If you choose to give birth in hospital, you will be looked after by midwives, but doctors should be available if you need their help.

You'll still have choices about the kind of care you want. Your midwives and doctors will provide information about what your hospital can offer.

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 to have your baby in a hospital.

Pros and cons of a hospital birth

If you give birth in hospital it is more likely you will have:

  • Assistance, if needed, from obstetricians and anaesthetists (who can administer epidural anaesthesia and general anaesthetic). 
  • Access to a specialist baby care unit if this is needed, and neonatologists (specialists in newborn care).

Some women feel reassured by having medical back-up close at hand. However, being in hospital makes it more likely you will receive medical interventions.

If you're considering a hospital birth, remember:

  • Your partner may have to leave fairly soon after you have your baby, depending at what time of day it is.
  • You will usually be moved to a postnatal ward where you'll be with other mothers and babies.
  • You might be cared for by a different midwife from the one who has looked after you during your pregnancy.

Some women might find it difficult to feel relaxed and comfortable in this environment.

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 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.

Be prepared

When you are making your choice about whether to have your baby in a hospital:

  • 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 labour.
  • 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.

You can change your mind

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 in to have your baby at home, 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.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.  We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about 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.

NCT's 'Location, location, location' report and campaign and place of birth research and information.

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.

NHS Choices provides information about choosing where you might want to have your baby.