What are my rights during the birth of my child?

All pregnant women have the right to receive maternity care, make their own choices about their care and to be given standards that respect their dignity.

It's against the law for medical treatment to be given to you unless you have given your consent. 

For example, electronic monitoring or internal examinations during labour if you haven't consented to have either of these. 

But there are a few exceptions to the consent rule and these include:

  • when someone is considered not to have the capacity to make their own decisions
  • in an emergency situation when a person cannot consent because of their physical condition

You must be given information about any proposed procedure in advance.

Consent doesn’t need to be recorded in writing, but it's usual practice to sign a consent form for surgical procedures.

You can also legally choose to have an unassisted birth, with no medical assistance at all.

But a healthcare professional can refer a woman to social services if it's deemed to be a significant risk to the unborn child by going ahead with an unassisted birth.

In summary

  • It's against the law for medical treatment to be given to you unless you have consented
  • You can legally choose to have an unassisted birth, with no medical assistance at all
  • You are responsible for making your own decisions about where you give birth
  • You have the right to choose your own birth partner
  • You are allowed to access your maternity records at any time
  • If you have grounds to complain, use our step-by-step guide if you don't get quality care when giving birth

Choosing where to give birth

It's your choice where you decide to give birth. 

As far as possible, all NHS trusts should offer you the choice of giving birth in a hospital where care is overseen by doctors, in a birth centre (which can be on a hospital site or on a separate site), where care is led by midwives, or a home birth.

However, this should be based on what's best for you and your baby, and also what's available locally.

For more information, see our guide on negotiating your care if you are at increased risk of complications

You are responsible for making your own decisions about where you give birth and can legally give birth at home, even if you're considered to be ‘high risk’.

If you’ve been told by your midwife or other healthcare professional during your pregnancy that you can give birth at home or in a birth centre, you can legitimately expect to be able to give birth there.  

For more information, Which? Birth Choice helps expectant parents choose where to give birth based on their own preferences and personal circumstances.

Your right to medical assistance

If you have requested pain relief, it should be provided unless there are good reasons for refusing to provide it, such as a clinical contraindication (ie a medical reason for not providing the treatment).

Choice of a birth partner

You also have the right to choose your own birth partner. A birth partner is a person you choose to have with you during your labour, in addition to any health professionals.

Those caring for you should respect your choice of birth partner.

In exceptional circumstances, a hospital may have the right to refuse your choice of birth partner, for example, if a birth partner has previously been violent towards health professionals.

Hospitals also sometimes have a policy on how many birth partners are permitted in the labour room. Ask the hospital for their policy. 

Accessing your records

If you receive NHS maternity care in the UK you will receive a set of maternity records, often called your handheld records, at your booking appointment which you keep with you throughout your pregnancy and birth.

You can ask your GP, midwife, doctor or health visitor informally, at any time, whether they can obtain your records for you. 

Access requests must be processed within 40 days. The NHS is committed to providing healthcare records within 21 days.

Access can be refused if it's believed it will be detrimental to your health, either mental or physical, or if the information could disclose information relating to a third party (non-healthcare professional).

It's unlikely that either of these grounds would apply to maternity records. For more information about your rights around giving birth take a look at the Birth Rights website


 

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