Birth centres are staffed by midwives and by support staff, including maternity care assistants or maternity support workers. Doctors do not work in birth centres. If you need medical care during labour or following birth, you will need to transfer to a hospital obstetric ward or labour ward.
Before you give birth
If you plan to give birth in an NHS midwife-led unit or birth centre, you’ll usually see your midwife or doctor in the community, which means at your GP surgery or local clinic.
As long as your pregnancy keeps going smoothly, you’ll probably only visit hospital for your scans and other screening or diagnostic tests.
In labour and afterwards
The midwives who will look after you at the midwife-led unit or birth centre may be different from the ones you’ll have seen during pregnancy.
Once you go home from the midwife-led unit or birth unit, you might receive postnatal care from the same midwife team you saw before the birth. This will continue for several days if not weeks after you gave birth (NICE, 2016).
Doulas and alternative practitioners
Some women choose to hire a doula, to support them when they're giving birth. Doulas are women with lots of experience of childbirth but not necessarily medical or midwifery training.
They may be someone whom you have met previously in preparation for the birth, for example during antenatal education. Research shows that women who have a support person such as an experienced doula present during labour may have shorter labours, increased spontaneous vaginal birth and are less likely to have caesarean birth or birth with forceps or ventouse. Women value continuous support during labour, including emotional support and being able to ask questions and find out information (Bohren et al, 2017).
Some midwife-led units will accommodate a doula or alternative health practitioner as well as your birth partner. Sometimes though, centres limit the number of people you can have in the labour room with you.
Your doula won’t be able to do anything medical but they can offer you and your partner emotional and physical support. They can also be a reassuring presence (Homebirth UK, 2018).
Contact your local unit to find out if it runs tours or if there are virtual tours available online. Some do, and then you can ask more questions about who you can have to support you at the birth.
If you experience complications
Although there are no doctors in midwife-led units or birth centres, midwives are trained to anticipate and respond to problems. If you feel you need extra pain relief or experience complications during labour and birth though, you may be transferred to an obstetric unit. Specialist staff including anaesthetists (for epidurals) and obstetricians will look after you there as well as midwives (NHS, 2017).
Deciding to pay for an independent midwife is one way of making sure you’re always with the same person for your antenatal appointments and they will be on call for you providing individualised care around the time of birth.
They can usually stay with you as a birth companion or advocate through labour in a birth centre.
For a lot of women, your birth partner is a lifeline when you’re in labour. And they definitely come under the category of ‘people who look after you’.
Birth partners can stay with you when you give birth at a birth centre or midwife-led unit. Your birth partner can give you practical and emotional support, reassurance and praise and even a lovely massage if you fancy it (Bohren et al, 2017).
This page was last reviewed in April 2021.
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.
You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
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.
Bohren MA, Hofmeyr G, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. (2017) Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (7):CD003766. Available from: http://www.cochrane.org/CD003766/PREG_continuous-support-women-during-childbirth [Accessed 2nd April 2021].
Gruber K, Cupito S, Donson C. (2013) Impact of Doulas on Health Birth Outcomes. Available from: https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/3951/birth-companionship-in-a-pandemic-master-27-04-2020-002.pdf [Accessed 2nd April 2021].
Homebirth UK. (2018) Home birth reference site. Available from: http://www.homebirth.org.uk/doula.htm [Accessed 2nd April 2021].
IMUK. (2014) Update: independent midwives and birth care. Available from: https://imuk.org.uk/families/what-we-do/ [Accessed 2nd April 2021].
NHS. (2017) Your antenatal care. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/antenatal-midwife-care-pregnant/ [Accessed 30th May 2018].
NHS. (2020) Find Maternity services services. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/other-services/Maternity%20services/LocationSearch/1802 [Accessed 1st April 2021].
NICE. (2016) Postnatal care up to 8 weeks after birth. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg37/chapter/1-Recommendations [Accessed 2nd April 2021].
Tommy’s. (2018) Who can be my birth partner. Available from: https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/labour-birth/labour-and-birth-faqs/who-can-be-my-birth-partner [Accessed 2nd April 2021].