Birth environments

Labour ward

A labour ward has medical facilities and doctors on hand if you need them. It’s sometimes called a delivery suite or an obstetric unit.

Having a baby here

What is a labour ward like?

You will have your own room to labour in, which will contain medical equipment, and epidurals are available for pain relief. Some labour wards also have "home-from-home" rooms for women at low risk of complications. These rooms are designed to make you feel more like you are at home. Many labour rooms have birthing equipment such as birth balls or mats available, and some have a separate midwife-led unit, also known as an alongside birth centre.

There will be an operating theatre nearby in case you need a caesarean birth, and often there's a neonatal unit in case your baby needs extra help.

What is it like to give birth on the labour ward?

Rossella, Beki and Reena share their experiences of giving birth in a labour ward in our video.

Labour ward video

Who will look after me during labour?

You'll be looked after by midwives but, if problems develop during labour, doctors called obstetricians are available to provide care. Special baby doctors (neonatologists) are also on hand to look after your baby if needed.

Will I get to know my midwives?

You're unlikely to know the midwives who look after you during labour, but this will vary between different maternity units in different hospitals.

Some maternity units offer team midwifery, where you receive your care from a team of midwives whom you get to know throughout your pregnancy, or caseloading, where a single midwife (or a pair of midwives) has full responsibility for your care throughout pregnancy, labour and after your baby is born. Both options give you continuity of care, allowing you to get to know your midwives before the birth. You can ask about the availability of this option if you're interested in this type of care.

Find out more about the benefits of getting to know your midwife.

Safety and interventions

If you're at increased risk of complications you're likely to be recommended to give birth in a labour ward, where doctors and medical equipment will be to hand. Women at low risk of complications are more likely to need medical help such as a caesarean if they plan to give birth in a labour ward compared to other birth environments, such as at home or a birth centre. Therefore, if you're having a straightforward pregnancy and keen to avoid medical interventions, it would be worth considering a birth centre. It is just as safe for your baby as planning to give birth in a labour ward.

Reasons to consider
  • Having access to a wide range of pain relief options, including epidurals, is important to you.
  • You don’t want to have to travel during labour if there are complications or you need a caesarean.
  • You have a medical condition that means the birth may be complicated, eg pre-eclampsia or a breech baby.
  • Knowing that doctors and medical equipment are nearby is important to you.
Take note of
  • Most labour wards don't have birth pools in every room, so you may not be able to use one.
  • Statistically, you're more likely to have medical interventions, eg a c-section, if you're planning a birth in a labour ward.
  • Once your baby is born, your partner may be asked to leave the hospital overnight.
  • You may stay one or more nights on a postnatal ward, which can be busy and less private than a birth centre.

Use our Birth Choice tool to find out what would be the best choice for you.

Find out more about giving birth in a labour ward

Safety and interventions in different birth environments

Who will look after me during pregnancy and labour?

Pain relief options: labour ward vs birth centre vs home