Finding the right place to give birth

As a mum-to-be, there are a few options available in terms of where to give birth. You can choose from a hospital, a midwife-run unit/birth centre or at home.

To know which is right for you and your baby, it’s wise to review your personal needs, risks, your birth plan and (to a minor extent) where you live well in advance. These considerations will ensure that you’re fully prepared for the big day.

Where to start

Before considering your options, speak to your GP who can review your condition and whether you may encounter any complications during pregnancy. If you’re healthy and deemed “low risk”, you can choose any of these birth locations. However, if any medical conditions are detected, you may require specialists on-hand at the delivery in case help and/or treatment is needed.

From here you can request more information on birth locations from:

  • Your GP surgery
  • Local maternity units
  • Children’s centres
  • Maternity services liaison committees – find out more at your local hospital’s maternity unit

The UK is generally a very safe place to give birth, but if you want to delve into more research, it’s worth reading the Birthplace study. It provides detailed findings on the absolute safest locations and conditions to give birth in, depending on your circumstances.

Home birth

If you have a low risk pregnancy where both you and your baby are healthy, home birth is a viable option. You will have minimal intervention while remaining safe – providing you have a good birth plan in place. In England and Wales, around 1 in 50[1] women give birth at home, as many women find it less stressful going into labour in familiar surroundings with family nearby.

Bear in mind if this is your first baby, there is a slightly higher risk of adverse outcomes. The chances of first births needing to be transferred from home to obstetric unit during labour are 45%, compared with subsequent births at just 12%[2]. While gas and air and a TENS machine can be arranged, epidurals are not available at home.

Midwife unit or birth centre

Midwife units are either part of a hospital’s maternity unit, or independent. Both are led only by midwives and typically have a less “clinical” and more homely environment for giving birth. You are also more likely to be looked after by one midwife who you have got to know during your pregnancy.

Maternity units or birth centres are perfectly safe for low risk pregnancies where no immediate obstetrics, neonatal or anaesthetist support is necessary. Your chances of being transferred to hospital during or after labour are slightly lower than a home birth. In independent units, the figures are roughly 36% in first births and 9% in subsequent births[3]. However it’s worth noting that independent maternity units don’t have certain kinds of pain relief, such as epidural.

Hospital birth

Whether you choose to give birth in a public or private hospital, these offer the safest environment if you have pre-existing medical conditions. Obstretricians, anaesthetists and other forms of specialist newborn care will be directly available.

If you’re anxious about labour, you may find that the treatments and specialists available in hospitals will provide the level of care and peace of mind you need.

Making the final decision

If you’re thinking of opting for a hospital or midwife unit birth, you can usually arrange a visit before your due date to familiarise yourself with the place and its facilities. Seeing the location in person is arguably the best way to know for sure if it will be the right fit for you. Some questions to keep in mind during your visit include:

  • Water birth facilities
  • Pain relief options
  • Who will provide primary support through pregnancy and labour
  • What is the unit’s medical intervention rate compare with others
  • Whether you could have access to specialist medical care if needed
  • Whether breastfeeding support is available
  • What level of postnatal care is offered
  • Are there any special rules on visiting hours

You can find answers to many of these questions online too, through the Which? Birth Choice website.

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