woman in labour with midwife

Do doctors work there? Or is it all just down to the midwives? Find out who’ll be there when you give birth at a birth centre (a midwife-led unit)

Before you give birth

If your pregnancy is low risk and you plan to give birth in an NHS midwife-led unit or birth centre, you’ll usually swerve hospital antenatal appointments. Instead, you’ll 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 have to 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 are usually 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

Wherever you’re giving birth, some women choose to hire a doula. Doulas are women with lots of experience of childbirth but not necessarily medical training (Tommy’s, 2015).  

Some midwife-led units can squeeze in 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 (Tommy’s, 2015).

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).

You can use the Which? Birth Choice regional guide to labour wards and birth centres to find out more about the unit where you are planning to give birth.

You can also use their tool to find contact details to see if your unit runs tours. Some do and then you can ask more questions about who you can have to support you at the birth.

If you experience complications

Midwives in a midwife-led unit or birth centre are highly skilled. If you feel you need extra pain relief or experience complications during labour and birth though, you’ll be transferred to an obstetric unit. Specialist staff including anaesthetists (for epidurals) and obstetricians will look after you there (NHS, 2017).

Private midwives

Deciding to pay for an independent midwife is one way of making sure you’re always with the same person for your antenatal appointments. Yet it’s unlikely they’ll be able to be your midwife during labour and birth in the midwife-led unit or birth centre.  They can usually stay with you as a birth companion or advocate though (IMUK, 2018).

Birth partners

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’.

It goes without saying that 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 in the early stages (Bohren et al, 2017).

This page was last reviewed in May 2018.

Further information

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.

If you’re unsure about your pain relief choices, you can use the Which? Birth Choice tool to compare services near you and to find out their contact details. You can also find out how to book a tour of your birth centre if they are offered, where you can ask questions about what kinds of pain relief are available.

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 21st May 2018].

Homebirth UK. (2018) Home birth reference site. Available from:  http://www.homebirth.org.uk/doula.htm [Accessed 30th May 2018].

IMUK. (2018) Update: independent midwives and birth care. Available from: http://www.imuk.org.uk/news/update-independent-midwives-and-birth-care/ [Accessed 30th May 2018].

NHS. (2017) Your antenatal care. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/antenatal-midwife-care-pregnant/ [Accessed 30th May 2018].

NICE. (2016) Postnatal care up to 8 weeks after birth. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg37/chapter/1-Recommendations [Accessed 30th May 2018].

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 16th August 2018].

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