Choosing where to give birth

Postnatal care: what happens after you’ve given birth?

8 min read

The care you’ll receive after giving birth will depend on if you have your baby at home, in a birth centre or in a labour ward. We go through how your place of birth can affect the first hours and days with your new baby.

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When you’re deciding where to give birth, it’s worth thinking about what’s important to you after your baby’s been born as well as during labour. Where you have your baby can affect everything from whether your partner will be able to stay with you and your newborn overnight, to how far you’ll have to travel if you need to be transferred to a hospital after the birth.

After giving birth in a birth centre

If you have your baby in a birth centre, you can usually stay with your new baby and birth partner in the same room where you delivered for the first few hours. This allows you to rest, have check-ups and make sure your baby has their first feed. 

As long as everything is well, you’ll normally be able to go home within six hours of the birth. Many birth centres allow you to stay overnight if you want to though, and some have en-suite private rooms that you, your baby and your partner can stay in together. 

This can be a good compromise for the first night if you want to avoid the medical environment of a postnatal ward, but still want the reassurance of trained staff at hand if you do need help or advice.

The room was really big with a nice double bed so there was no issue with my husband staying, and that was quite an important factor for me. Three mums talk about giving birth in a birth centre

Look up your local birth centre to see what you can expect after the birth, including the cost of private rooms and overnight provisions for your partner.

Transfer to hospital

If you or your baby need additional medical help after the birth, you’ll both be transferred from the birth centre to the nearest hospital postnatal ward, to be cared for overnight or as long as is necessary. How long the transfer journey takes and what’s involved depends on what kind of birth centre you’re in.

  • If you’re in an alongside birth centre, the postnatal ward is in the same building so you just need to be taken through the hospital on a bed or in a wheelchair.
  • If you’re in a freestanding birth centre, you’ll be transferred to the nearest maternity hospital in an ambulance. You can find out how long the transfer time is by looking up a birth centre.

The first couple of hours we stayed in the birth centre and then they moved us to the postnatal ward where we stayed until the next day to monitor my daughter for any ill-effects from strep B. Read Hana’s birth story

If you’re transferred to the labour ward during birth (for example if you request an epidural) you may be able to come back to the birth centre after your baby’s been born, as long as you’re both doing well.

However, not all birth centres will allow you to return, so it’s a good idea to read up on the birth centre where you want to deliver your baby and check their policy in advance. You can also use our Birth Choice tool to find out if a birth centre could be the best place for you to have your baby.

After having a home birth

If you give birth to your baby at home, the midwives will stay with you for a while. They’ll make sure you and your new baby have everything you need, as well as helping your partner to clean up any mess and empty the birth pool if you had a home water birthYour baby will have their first feed and the midwives will be close at hand to help you both get the hang of things.

When the midwives leave a couple of hours after the birth, they’ll make sure you have emergency contact details for if you need any assistance, and will also let you know when they’ll be back for a check-up the next day.

I just wanted to be at home and able to have a cup of tea and toast in my own bed. Three mums talk about their home births

If you need to go to hospital after the birth, for example if you need to have more extensive stitching or your baby needs help, the midwives will arrange for you to be transferred to a hospital in an ambulance.

You may be able to return home again the same day, but you could also be admitted to the postnatal ward if you or your baby need ongoing care or observation.

You can search with your postcode to find information and contact details for the home birth team where you live, or use our Birth Choice tool to compare all your local birth options.

After giving birth on the labour ward

You’ll stay in your delivery room or a separate recovery room on the labour ward for a couple of hours after a vaginal birth or caesarean section to make sure you and your baby are both doing well in the first few hours. 

Your baby will have their first feed, and the midwife will be there with you to help with positioning and latching if you’re initiating breastfeeding. Your birth partner can also be with you and it’s a great time for bonding with your baby.

If your birth is uncomplicated, you can usually go home within a few hours of your baby being born. Look up any hospital to see how long you’re likely to stay after a straightforward birth.

If you had a more complicated birth, for example a c-section or assisted delivery, you’ll be transferred to the postnatal ward a couple of hours after the birth. This is usually in the same part of the hospital as the labour ward, so it’s likely to be a smooth transition for you and your baby. 

Postnatal ward

Whether you’ve given birth in a labour ward, birth centre or at home, you’ll be admitted to the nearest postnatal ward if you or your baby need ongoing care after the birth.

On the postnatal ward, you’ll be sharing a room with other new mums and their babies, and a team of midwives, nurses and doctors will look after you until you’re well enough to go home.

You’ll probably need to stay at least one night at the hospital if you have:

  • a c-section, either elective or emergency
  • an assisted birth with forceps or ventouse cap
  • extensive tearing which requires stitching in theatre or monitoring
  • a pregnancy conditionlike pre-eclampsia, that means you need to be monitored after the birth, or
  • your baby needs monitoring, for example if they’re having trouble feeding. If your baby needs more intensive care, they’ll be moved to special care unit.

Labour can be unpredictable, so even if you have a low-risk pregnancy and plan to go home straight after the birth, it can be good to prepare for the possibility that you may need to stay in hospital for a few days.

Read other new parents’ top tips on essentials to pack in your hospital bag to make sure your stay on the postnatal ward is as comfortable as possible if you do need extra care after the birth.

Your birth partner

You may feel better staying on the postnatal ward if your birth partner is able to be there with you during the night, and most postnatal wards will let your partner stay if you want them to. However, some hospitals only allow partners to come during visiting hours.

According to a CQC study of women who gave birth in January 2018:

  • 71% were able to have their partner with them as much as they wanted
  • 22% said that their partners were restricted to visiting hours
  • 13% weren’t able to have their partner with them as there wasn’t anywhere for them to sleep (for example, a fold-out bed or reclining chair).

You can check if partners are allowed to stay overnight and what facilities are available for them in your local hospitals by using our Birth Choice tool. It can also be a good thing to discuss with a midwife if you’re visiting a local maternity unit during your pregnancy.

It helped that my husband was with us for the whole six days, so when I couldn’t be with our son he was there. There wasn’t a bed for him to sleep in, but he did have a reclining chair. Read Alicia’s birth story

Private postnatal rooms

Postnatal wards can be very busy so some women prefer to pay for a private room, also known as an amenity room, to get as much rest and privacy as possible after the birth.

Not all NHS hospitals provide private postnatal rooms, and the cost can vary from £70 up to several hundred pounds per night, so look up your local hospital to see if it’s something they offer and what the price tag is if this is an option you want to consider.  

Hospital discharge

While there’s no way of knowing how long you’ll have to stay on the postnatal ward in advance, you may find it comforting to know that most women don’t have to stay more than a couple of days. Three quarters of new mums are able to go home within 48 hours of the birth and just one in ten stay for five days or more.

How long do women stay on postnatal wards after giving birth?

When you’re discharged from hospital, you’ll be given notes and contact details for the postnatal ward, in case you have any urgent questions, as well as information about when the community midwife will see you once you’re at home.

After you’ve come home

Wherever you give birth, once you’re back home you’ll have appointments with your community midwife team. They’ll make sure you’re healing well and your baby is gaining weight as expected, and they’ll be able to answer any questions you may have in the early days as you get to grips with looking after a newborn baby.

More from Which?


These are the sources of information used in this article:

Care Quality Commission, Maternity Services Survey 2018 (2018)

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