Using birth statistics

A guide to birth statistics

9 min read

Birth statistics can show you how women give birth in different maternity units and birth centres. This is an overview of the statistics we show on this site and where they come from.

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Birth statistics: why look at them?

If you’re expecting a baby, you probably won’t choose where to give birth simply by looking at maternity statistics. But what statistics can do is give you an indication of the type experience you may have. For example, looking at the percentage of women who have had a water birth in a labour ward gives you a sense of how experienced the midwives there might be in delivering babies in water. Take a look at our top 10 most useful birth statistics article if you’re expecting a baby and want to know which stats to look out for when deciding where to give birth.

Cathy Warwick, former chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), explains in this short video how Which? Birth Choice can help you make an informed decision about where to give birth using the tailored information on this site:

Where can I find maternity statistics on Which? Birth Choice?

We have a dedicated page for every birth centre and maternity unit in the UK – so if you want to dive straight in, use our unique Birth Choice tool to look up your local units and home birth services. On these pages you can see a whole host of birth statistics – from total number of births to water birth rates.

Personalising the birth statistics

If you use the Birth Choice tool, statistics shown for labour wards will be personalised to show you statistics for women in similar circumstances to you wherever possible. So if you’re a first-time mum, we’ll show you how other women having a baby for the first time gave birth at that hospital, such as by planned caesarean or without medical interventions. This personalisation is only currently possible for England due to the data that’s available.

Data for England is personalised according to:

Personalising the data like this helps you to compare units. Research conducted for the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme in 2014 found that risk factors and whether a woman has had a previous baby are two of the most important characteristics that influence how women give birth. So where possible we personalise the data according to these two things to allow you to compare yourself with women similar to you in these two senses to provide a more realistic idea of what sort of experience you might have.

Find the right place to give birth

Discover whether birth in a local labour ward, birth centre or at home would be best for you.

Find your best fit

Where do maternity statistics on Which? Birth Choice come from?

National Statistics

The statistics we show for NHS hospitals and alongside birth centres have mostly been routinely collected by NHS hospitals and form part of the national statistics for each country in the UK.

  • England – Maternity statistics for England are derived from NHS Digital individual patient Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) records. Statistics are based on the number of women giving birth (‘deliveries’) rather than the number of babies born.
  • Wales – Maternity statistics for Wales are derived from Welsh Government Maternity Statistics, Wales. As for England, the statistics are based on the number of women giving birth (‘deliveries’) rather than the number of babies born.
  • Scotland – Statistics are derived from Births in Scottish Hospitals published by ISD Scotland. Maternity statistics for Scotland are based on the number of live births.
  • Northern Ireland – These statistics come from the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the birth statistics are based on the number of births.

Statistics for NHS hospitals are based on the whole hospital site, meaning that where a labour ward has an alongside birth centre the women giving birth in the birth centre will be included when calculating the statistics. At present, there’s no reliable way to separate out the information for the labour ward and for the accompanying birth centre. We show the proportion of births that take place in the birth centre if the hospitals have reported this information.

These nationally reported statistics are processed and supplied to us by Rod Gibson Associates Ltd, part of the BirthChoiceUK team. For further information, please contact us at: birthchoice@which.co.uk

Nationally reported statistics that are displayed for labour wards

  • Type of birth – what kind of birth women had after they spent some time in labour, e.g. an unplanned (emergency) caesarean, a forceps or ventouse birth (assisted birth), or if they gave birth using their own efforts. Find out more about assisted delivery.
  • Planned caesarean – how many women had a caesarean without going into labour – often called an elective caesarean. Read more about caesareans.
  • Induction – how labour started for women giving birth – whether it was induced or started on its own. This statistic excludes those who had a planned caesarean.
  • Medical interventions – how many women gave birth naturally and how many women experienced medical interventions. This stat isn’t available for Wales.
    • For units in England medical interventions refer to induction, having labour sped up, having a caesarean, forceps or ventouse birth or an episiotomy. For women not having any of these interventions we show those who had an epidural but an otherwise natural birth and those not having an epidural or any other medical interventions – epidurals are not classed as a ‘medical intervention’ here.
    • For units in Scotland the term medical interventions is used slightly differently, and in this case refers to induction, having a caesarean, forceps or ventouse birth, episiotomy and also includes having an epidural.
  • Cuts and tears – how many women (who didn’t have a caesarean) had stitches after the birth. This statistic is only available for units in England.
  • Previous caesarean – how many women who had a caesarean for a previous birth had a planned repeat caesarean, and how many planned a vaginal birth. This statistic is only available for units in England.
  • Vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) – how many women who had a caesarean for a previous birth had a successful VBAC, and how many had an unplanned caesarean following some time in labour. This statistic is only available for units in England.

Having a baby and wondering how these stats might be useful to you? Take a look at the top 10 most useful birth statistics when deciding where to give birth.

The Which? Birth Choice annual midwifery audit

Every year we run an audit of the facilities, services and birth statistics of UK labour wards and birth centres. This not only provides the detailed information we display on the individual pages dedicated to each unit, but it also provides us with some birth statistics that we cannot get from nationally available sources.

Which? Birth Choice audit statistics displayed for labour wards

  • Water births – the percentage of women (out of every 100) giving birth who gave birth in water. It doesn’t include women who used water in labour and then got out of the birth pool to give birth. Find out more about using water in labour.

Which? Birth Choice audit statistics displayed for birth centres and home births

Birth centre and home birth statistics that are displayed on this site have been provided to Which? Birth Choice directly by the units and home birth services themselves through the annual audit. In the most recent audit we asked about births taking place between April 2015 and March 2016. Not all maternity units have been able to provide such up-to-date figures and a few have not provided any figures.

We ask units for the following statistics:

  1. Transfer rates
  2. Type of birth
  3. Cuts and tears
  4. Water births
  5. Type of women
  6. Home birth rates.

1. Transfer rates

The transfer rate of a birth centre or home birth service tells you how many women who attended the birth centre in labour or planned to give birth at home had to transfer to a labour ward to give birth, and how many stayed where they had planned to give birth.

To find out more about transfer rates read our article on transferring during labour.

2. Type of birth

For women who attended the birth centre in labour or who planned to give birth at home, this tells you how they gave birth (e.g. caesarean, assisted birth) regardless of whether they gave birth where they planned to or not. This is because women who had some form of intervention such as an unplanned caesarean section will have been transferred to a labour ward during labour. Find out more about intervention rates in different birth environments.

3. Cuts and tears

This tells you how many women had a cut or tear to the perineum during birth. As these rates are reported by the birth centres themselves, there may be different definitions (e.g. no damage at all, no stitches). As a result, the rates may not always be comparable between birth centres.

4. Water birth

This tells you the percentage of women giving birth in a birth pool. It doesn’t include women who used water in labour as a form of pain relief and then got out of the birth pool to give birth. Find out more about using water in labour as a form of pain relief.

5. Type of women – birth centres only

This shows the split between women having their first baby and women having a second or subsequent baby who gave birth in the birth centre. We do not show this stat for home births.

6. Home birth rate – home birth only

This tells you what proportion of women having maternity care organised by a hospital gave birth at home with a midwife attending them. Find out more about having a home birth. You can find home birth statistics on the ‘Home birth’ tab on any hospital page, or do a search using your postcode or area to find the home birth service closest to you.

More from Which?


References

These are the sources of information used in this article:

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists,A third- or fourth-degree tear during childbirth: Information for you,Patient Information Leaflet, RCOG, London. (2008)

Sandall J, Murrells T, Dodwell M, Gibson R, Bewley S, Coxon K, Bick D, Cookson G, Warwick C, Hamilton-Fairley D,The efficient use of the maternity workforce and the implications for safety and quality in maternity care: a population-based, cross-sectional study,Health Serv Deliv Res 2014;2(38) (2014)

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