Birth centres are midwife-led units where the environment is more homely, and the focus is on birth without medical intervention.
What is a birth centre like?
Birth centres are also called midwife-led units. There are two types:
- An alongside birth centre - at a hospital which also has a labour ward. This is also called a co-located birth centre.
- A freestanding birth centre - located away from a main obstetric hospital, often in a small community hospital or in a purpose-built building. This is also called a standalone birth centre or, in Scotland, a community maternity unit.
What is it like to give birth in a birth centre?
Birth centres tend to have a friendly 'home-from-home' atmosphere with an emphasis on birth without medical interventions. This can make you feel more relaxed, which may make your labour easier. Birth pools are often provided so you can use water to help cope with pain in labour. You're more likely to use water to help cope with pain during labour in a birth centre than a labour ward.
You can usually only plan to give birth in a birth centre if you're having a straightforward pregnancy, as there are limited medical facilities.
Alicia, Lyssa and Claire talk about what it was like for them and things you should consider if you're thinking of giving birth in a birth centre in our video.
Who will look after me during labour?
The midwives in birth centres are experts in complication-free pregnancy and birth. They'll take care of you during labour, but if complications do happen, such as you need a doctor, they'll make sure that you're transferred to a labour ward. For alongside birth centres, the labour ward will be very close by - usually in the same building. You can expect a journey by road if you're in a freestanding birth centre.
Will I get to know my midwives?
In some areas you can choose the birth centre early on in your pregnancy. You're then more likely to be looked after by a small team of midwives, who will get to know you before looking after you during labour. In some hospitals, you will automatically be booked into an alongside birth centre if you're having a straightforward pregnancy.
In other hospitals, you'll only be able to book the birth centre later on in pregnancy. Up to then, you'll receive the same antenatal care as women who are booked to give birth on the labour ward. Once booked into the birth centre, you'll then be cared for by birth centre midwives.
Depending on care in your local area, the same midwives may also look after you in the days following the birth of your baby.
Safety and interventions
If you're a healthy first time mum and having a straightforward pregnancy, planning to give birth in a birth centre is particularly suitable for you because it's as safe for your baby as planning to give birth in a labour ward, and you're less likely to have medical interventions. Similarly if this is your second, third or fourth baby then birth in a birth centre is as safe as giving birth in a labour ward but with a reduced chance of medical interventions. If you're unsure about being eligible for a birth centre birth, read our advice on being at increased risk of complications during labour and birth.