Picking a hospital to give birth in can feel like a big decision. From narrowing down the choices to changing your mind, read our guide to help you decide.
Explore all the options
From the moment of their positive pregnancy test, many expectant mums are happy to plump for the nearest maternity hospital. Other mums might have a choice of hospitals close to them, or perhaps prefer one slightly further afield.
However you feel, it’s always worth thinking about your options. You can talk to your GP about it if you need to make your choice before your booking appointment. You might get your booking appointment at your chosen hospital. Or if you don’t have to decide before then, talk to your midwife about it at the booking appointment (NHS, 2016).
"It’s a great idea to talk to local friends who’ve had babies recently about how they made their decision."
You could also ask them about their experience during and after giving birth there. Your NCT teacher, too, can be a fantastic source of information about local hospitals and mums’ experiences.
You can do research online by looking at the Which? Birth Choice regional guide to labour wards and birth centres. They even have a handy comparison tool to help you compare maternity services in your area.
Things to think about
Choosing the nearest maternity hospital certainly has many advantages. Top of the list is the fact you can get to it quickly when you’re in labour. Yet you’ll also have a few other things to consider.
It’s important to think about what kind of birth you want and which hospital is best equipped for this. For example you might want to use a birth pool. If that’s you, try find to out whether the hospital has them and how likely they are to be available.
It’s a great idea to visit the hospital if you can, and see for yourself the kind of room you might have your baby in. You might need to find out whether there are restrictions on who can be with you during and after the birth. So try to think whether you’d like your partner and/or family to be with you.
It’s also good to research visiting policies. This’ll tell you when your partner will need to leave if you have your baby at night.
Finding out about what kind of pain relief is available and what their labour induction policies are is a good idea too. Talk to your midwife about your birth plan and make sure you’re able to have the kind of birth you want at your chosen hospital.
Thinking about all of this can also help you to plan how you’ll feed your baby and who might help. Breastfeeding can be tricky to get the hang of, even if you’ve done it before. So make sure there’ll be someone from the hospital on hand to support you. Equally, you might need help making up formula and giving it to your baby if you decide to formula feed.
Useful questions to ask
If you’re not sure where to start researching the best hospital, you could look into answers to the following questions or ask your midwife:
- What equipment is available – for example mats, a birthing chair or beanbags?
- Can I bring my own things from home?
- Who can be with me at the birth – is my partner allowed to be with me at all times?
- Can I move around in labour and find my own position for the birth?
- What pain relief options are available? Can I have an epidural?
- Can my partner or members of my family stay with me after the birth? Are there any special rules about visiting?
- How soon can I go home after the birth?
- Will my baby be able to stay in the same hospital if they need special care? If not, where would they be transferred to?
- Are babies with their mothers all the time or is there a separate nursery?
Booking the hospital
When you’ve made your decision, you can usually book the hospital through your midwife or GP. Sometimes it might be easier to book directly yourself. Visit the Which? Birth Choice regional guide to labour wards and birth centres for contact details and to find out how to book.
Changing your mind
Choosing where to have your baby is a big decision, and it doesn’t have to be set in stone. If you’re booked into a birth centre and decide you’d rather have your baby at home, that’s fine. Or if you’ve booked a home birth but would rather go to hospital, that’s also fine.
"Ultimately, the best environment for you to have your baby in is one where you will feel safe, comfortable and relaxed."
If you’re sure about a change, tell your midwife or GP and they can organise switching you to another hospital. You can even change your mind about where to give birth during labour (NHS, 2017).
This page was last reviewed in September 2018.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
AIMS provides independent support and information about maternity choices.
NHS (2016) Antenatal appointment schedule. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/antenatal-appointment-schedule/ [Accessed 21st May 2018].
NHS (2017) Where to give birth? Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/where-can-i-give-birth/ [Accessed 21st May 2018].