Many maternity units and birth centres organise tours. Our checklist of questions to ask the midwife can help you decide if a unit is right for you.
Can I go on a tour of the maternity unit?
A birth centre or labour ward that you’ve never been to before is likely to feel like a very unfamiliar place. Some maternity units offer tours to expectant parents, usually in the third trimester, which can be really helpful in preparing for birth. You can use our look up your local labour ward or birth centre to see if they offer tours.
If you’re early on in your pregnancy or your local units don’t offer tours, you can ask your midwife any questions you have at your antenatal appointments.
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What questions should I ask about the maternity unit?
Everyone has different thoughts on what their ideal birth environment should be like, so it can be a good idea to have to have a think about which aspects of birth are important to you before you go to see the maternity unit.
The list of questions below could give you an idea of what you might like to find out about, and you can use our unique Birth Choice tool to see if your local units offer the facilities and sort of care that you’re hoping
You can also bring our handy downloadable list of key questions to ask when choosing a maternity unit to the tour or when you next see your midwife.
What type of care will I get?
- What type of maternity unit is this? Is it a labour ward (obstetric unit) led by doctors for example, or is it a midwifery-led unit?
- Will I be looked after by community midwives or by hospital midwives? If you’re not sure what this means check out our advice on who will look after you during pregnancy and labour.
- Where will my antenatal care take place? Can I choose where?
- Will I be able to get to know the midwives who’ll care for me during the birth? Find out more about knowing your midwife.
- Will these be the same midwives who’ll visit me at home after the baby is born?
- Can I do birth preparation classes at this hospital? When would I need to book? Are these classes taught by midwives or antenatal teachers? Are they provided free of charge?
What types of pain relief options are available?
- Will I be able to use self-help methods such as hypnobirthing or aromatherapy? Find out more about methods of pain relief.
- Which pain relief drug does this unit offer: pethidine, diamorphine or meptid? Find out more about these kinds of pain-relieving drug.
- Does the unit have a dedicated anaesthetist and are epidurals available 24 hours a day? Find out more about epidurals.
How likely is it that a birth pool will be available?
- How many birth pools are there in the unit? Find out more about using water in labour and water births.
- How often are all pools occupied?
- Are all midwives in the unit trained to attend to women labouring or giving birth in water? If not, how many midwives on any one shift will have the skill and confidence to attend to a woman using a pool?
- How many women have used the pool for pain relief in the last two years and how many babies have been born in water in this unit? Use our Birth Choice tool to view stats like this for each unit.
- May I bring a hired pool into the unit?
What if I’ve had a previous caesarean?
- Repeat caesarean rates and VBAC rates (vaginal birth after caesarean) are shown for every obstetric unit in England on our maternity unit pages – just search for your local maternity unit name.
- Does this unit encourage women who’ve had previous caesareans to give birth vaginally or will I automatically be offered another caesarean?
- Is there a policy of continuous monitoring for women planning a VBAC? Find out more about monitoring.
- If I agree to be continuously monitored, can it be arranged so that I can remain upright and still be able to move around?
- Will I be supported in my decision if I don’t want continuous monitoring, and would like intermittent monitoring instead?
- Will I be able to give birth in the midwife-led birth centre if I’ve had a previous caesarean?
What should I ask about breastfeeding?
- Does this maternity unit have a Baby Friendly award?
- Does this maternity unit employ a breastfeeding specialist or counsellor to help me get started with breastfeeding my baby, either while I’m in hospital or after I’ve gone home?
Is the unit able to support my individual preferences and requirements?
- Are all midwives trained so that I can give birth in an upright position, or will I be encouraged to lie or sit on the bed?
- Are female doctors always available?
- What non-medical equipment is available to use during labour, e.g. birth ball, bean bags, cushions, floor mats?
- Does the hospital provide an interpreting service for women who would prefer to speak their own language?
- Is there easy wheelchair access to the delivery suite and the wards?
- Does the hospital provide equipment to help disabled women in labour?
What will happen after my baby is born?
- Assuming there are no problems, how long will I stay in the unit after my baby is born?
- Will I be moved to a postnatal ward? If so, how many women will be in the ward?
- What are the visiting hours for my partner?
- Can my partner stay overnight with me after the baby is born?
You can use our helpful Birth Choice tool to look up your local maternity units and find the answers to many of these questions.
Find out more about postnatal care in different birth settings.
Honest birth stories from real mums
Watch our videos of nine mums talking about why they decided to give birth in a birth centre, on a labour ward or at home, and what their tour of the maternity units were like. Here’s a sneak peek from our day of filming:
More from Which?
- Read our birth environments page to find out the differences between giving birth in a labour ward, birth centre or having a home birth.
- Make sure you get your little one home safely by reading our car seat reviews.
- Prepare for the major milestones with our week-by-week guide to pregnancy.
These are the sources of information used in this article:
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Birth after previous caesarean birth, Green-top Guideline No.45 (2007)