We give you all the facts you need to be able to choose the best place to give birth, for you.
The place where you give birth to your baby is very important and you should feel as comfortable as possible with it, whether it’s a hospital, birthing unit, at home or somewhere else.
By Sally J. Hall
Hospital Labour Ward
Sometimes called a delivery suite, the labour ward is where women give birth in a hospital setting. You will have your own room with medical equipment in it for pain relief as and when you need it and it’s usually designed to make you feel comfortable and relaxed, as long as your pregnancy has been complication-free and your labour is progressing well. Many also have equipment such as birthing balls, mats, chairs and stools and sometimes a birthing pool.
- Main advantage: in a hospital, so near emergency facilities in case of problems.
- Your team: Midwives will care for you most of the time as long as there are no complications, though your doctor will usually pop in. If you need more help, your doctor can be with you too. If you need an epidural or a Caesarean, anaethsthetists are also on hand.
- Best for: if you have had problems, are high risk, know you want an epidural or are having a planned Caesarean
Also called a midwife-led unit, these are dedicated birth environments where you can have your baby. Some are located at hospitals, which also have labour wards, whereas some are freestanding, often in a small community hospital. Their atmosphere is relaxed and no-fuss and you are cared for by midwives who are experts in pregnancies that are free from complications. There is usually more of an an emphasis on natural birth and there are often birthing pools too. If you do run into complications, you will be transferred to a hospital birth unit, so if you are concerned, consider a unit alongside a main hospital.
- Main advantage: because of the relaxed atmosphere, you’re less likely, statistically, to need interventions.
- Your team: specialist midwives who are experts in low-risk pregnancies and who will stay with you and manage your labour from the early stages through to helping you to breastfeed after the birth.
- Best for: Low-risk pregnancies, especially if this is not your first baby; if you want a water birth; if you would like a natural birth.
If you decide that you would like to have a home birth, you will be cared for by community or independent midwives through your labour and usually this will be the same person from the time you go into active labour until you have your baby, whereas in hospitals and sometimes birthing units, shifts will change. You’ll be relaxed and in familiar surroundings, which is often the key to a successful labour and you can have any equipment you want such as a birthing pool or ball, beanbag and so on. Pethidine can be prescribed beforehand by your doctor and your midwife can bring gas and air.
- Main advantage: you are at home, so are comfortable and relaxed in your own surroundings and don’t have the stress of transferring to a hospital or birthing unit right in the middle of labour.
- Your team: if you go private, you’ll have an independent midwife and perhaps also a Doula to assist you and any other people you want can be present.
- Best for: if you really don’t like hospitals and want the birth to be as normal and natural as possible.
Thinking about who should be on your birth team?
Find out who does what here:
Considerations when choosing a birth location
- Take the tour: Go and see as many locations as you like before deciding on one. You may find one location feels much more ‘right’ than others
- Know your options: If you’re worried about pain relief and complications, ask how these things are handled at each location.
- Ask questions: The team has seen thousands of births but most of us only have a couple of experiences of it. Ask as many questions as you need to and don’t feel that the medical team will think you’re being silly – they are there to calm your fears.
Think about distances
If you fall in love with a birthing location, think about how far it is from home. Take a few practice runs, in rush hour and other times of the day. If it takes too long, you may want to reconsider.
Can I change my mind?
If you’ve booked into a hospital or unit but change your mind or perhaps you move house, it should be easy for you to change to a new birthing location. Make sure copies of your notes are sent to the new location and have your notes with you.