Using birth statistics

The top 10 birth statistics you should consider

10 min read

Birth statistics can help you understand what might happen during labour. Here we cover the key statistics that you should look out for when deciding where to give birth.

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There’s a lot of information out there about having a baby and we want to help you make sense of it all. On Which? Birth Choice we display birth statistics for labour wards, birth centres and home births across the UK. This guide highlights what birth statistics can tell you to help you decide where to give birth.

The birth statistics every mum-to-be should consider

Birth statistics can’t predict what will happen to you when having a baby, but they can give you an idea of the maternity care you may receive, or the experience you may have.

1. Type of birth

Women give birth in different ways, such as by unplanned (emergency) caesarean, a forceps or ventouse (assisted birth), or using their own efforts. Looking at ‘type of birth’ statistics for your local unit tells you what kind of birth women had after they spent some time in labour. This can be useful because you’re likely to have a longer recovery period if you’ve had a caesarean (planned or unplanned), because of the time it will take for your wound to heal. Similarly, if you’ve had an assisted birth you might have had stitches which need to heal. Looking at this statistic can give you an idea of how likely you would be to have an unplanned caesarean for example, and you can compare the statistics of different units.

Look out for this statistic if:

  • you’d prefer to avoid a caesarean
  • you’d prefer to avoid an assisted birth.

Bear in mind:

  • This data doesn’t include women who had a planned (elective) caesarean. The data only covers women who spent some time in labour.
  • When looking at statistics for a birth centre, the type of birth statistics refer to how women who attended the birth centre in labour gave birth (eg caesarean, assisted birth), regardless of whether or not they actually gave birth in the birth centre. This is because some women are transferred during labour to a labour ward.

Read up on assisted birth.

2. Planned caesarean

This tells you how many women had a caesarean without going into labour – often called an elective or planned caesarean – and whether or not it was done for medical reasons.

Check out this statistic if:

  • you’re interested in having a planned caesarean
  • you’d prefer not to have a planned caesarean, perhaps because of a medical condition.

Bear in mind:

  • Some hospitals will have higher caesarean rates because they have higher numbers of women at increased risk of complications giving birth there. This is likely to be the case in specialist hospitals because women may be referred from other hospitals.

Find out more about caesareans.

3. Induction

This tells you how labour started for women (excluding those who had a planned caesarean). This can indicate what policies the hospital has for starting labour artificially, and whether the doctors at this hospital are more relaxed about labour starting naturally.

Take note of this statistic if:

  • you’re hoping to go into labour naturally
  • you’re keen to be induced if you go overdue.

Bear in mind:

  • These rates are likely to be higher in hospitals with higher numbers of women at increased risk of complications, such as large specialist hospitals.

Find out more about induction.

4. Medical interventions

This tells you how many women gave birth naturally, and how many women had medical interventions. It differs slightly between countries but generally the term medical interventions is used to refer to any of the following:

  • induction (by having your waters broken, or by drugs given by drip or inserted into your vagina)
  • having labour sped up (by having your waters broken or with a drip)
  • having a caesarean, forceps or ventouse (assisted) birth
  • having an episiotomy (cut).

Pay attention to this statistic if:

  • You would prefer to have a birth without medical interventions, with or without an epidural.

Bear in mind:

  • These rates are likely to be higher in hospitals with higher numbers of women at increased risk of complications, such as large specialist hospitals.

5. Cuts and tears

This tells you how many women (who didn’t have a caesarean) had stitches after the birth. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists it’s not uncommon to experience tearing, but the severity varies – overall, only about three in 100 women experience more serious (third- or fourth-degree) tearing. Because having a cut or tear that needs stitches can be the cause of discomfort after birth, many women would understandably like to avoid this, which is why you might be interested to see these statistics.

This is a useful statistic if:

  • you’d prefer to be supported to give birth without the need to be stitched afterwards.

Bear in mind:

  • This statistic doesn’t tell you how extensive a tear was, or if an episiotomy was used. An episiotomy is a cut made by a doctor or midwife to make more space for the baby to be born, which can prevent extensive tearing.
  • As these rates are reported by the birth centres themselves, there may be different definitions (eg no damage at all, no stitches). This means that the rates may not always be comparable between birth centres. That said, they’re still indicative of how likely you will be to experience a cut or tear, which can help to prepare you for the realities of giving birth.

6. Previous caesarean

This tells you how many women who had a caesarean for a previous birth had a planned repeat caesarean, and how many planned a vaginal birth. Hospitals with a high planned vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) rate may be able to offer more support for women who are looking to have a vaginal birth after a previous caesarean.

Take note of this statistic if:

  • you’d like to have a planned repeat caesarean
  • you’d like to have a VBAC.

Bear in mind:

  • This is an average statistic for all women who have had a previous caesarean, not just for their last birth. Therefore it also includes women who have had more than one caesarean and women who have had a successful vaginal birth since their caesarean.

7. Vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC)

This tells you 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. A hospital with a high VBAC success rate may be able to give you the support that you need to achieve a VBAC.

Look out for this statistic if:

  • you want to have a VBAC.

Bear in mind:

  • This is an average statistic for all women who have had a previous caesarean, not just for their last birth. Therefore it also includes women who have had more than one caesarean and women who have had a successful vaginal birth since their caesarean.
  • The ‘type of birth’ statistic, when personalised for women with a previous caesarean, will also show you how many women had a forceps or ventouse VBAC.

8. Water births

This tells you the percentage of women (the number out of each 100) 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. This data has been collected directly from maternity units based on their own records.

Pay attention to this statistic if:

  • you’re interested in using water in labour.

Find out more about using water in labour.

9.Transfer rates

If you move from one place to another during labour, such as from a birth centre to a labour ward, this is called being transferred. Looking at the transfer rates of your local birth centres and home birth services tells you how many women who attended a birth centre in labour, or started labour at home with the intention of staying there, had to transfer to a labour ward to give birth, and how many stayed where they were to give birth.

Where possible we have separately displayed rates for first-time mothers and for women having a second or subsequent baby, so that you can refer to the statistics most appropriate to you. First-time mothers are typically more likely to be transferred during labour than women who’ve had a baby before.

Rates can differ between home births and birth centres so compare transfer rates of your local birth centres and home birth facilities.

Find out about transferring during labour.

10.Type of women (birth centres)

This tells you the split between first-time mothers and women having a second or subsequent baby who gave birth in the birth centre. Having a baby in a birth centre is as safe as having a baby in a hospital for women at low risk of complications, whether they’re a first-time mother or not.

Find out about safety in different birth environments.

Birth statistics: Where can I find them on Which? Birth Choice?

Which? Birth Choice pulls together the most useful birth statistics for NHS maternity units, birth centres and home birth services across the UK, clearly presenting them on individual pages. On these pages you can see a whole host of birth statistics – from total number of births to water birth rates.

Use our unique Birth Choice tool to find your local units. When you’ve used the tool, where possible the statistics shown for units will be personalised so that you can see statistics for women similar to you in terms of whether or not they’ve had a baby before.

Home birth statistics are on the ‘Arranging a Home Birth’ tab of any individual unit’s page.

If you’re interested in the hospital statistics displayed on Which? Birth Choice, you can read our guide to birth statistics.

Why are birth statistics helpful?

Before you dive into the pages for your local unit or birth centre, here’s how our birth statistics can help you:

  1. They help you understand how likely a particular procedure or experience is to happen to you, based on what’s happened to other women in the same hospital or unit.
  2. You can see how women give birth in your local maternity unit or birth centre compared with others in your local area.
  3. You can see how women give birth in your local maternity unit compared with the national average.

Making comparisons between labour wards, birth centres and home birth services

To help you make comparisons we’ve personalised the statistics wherever possible to show you how women similar to you in terms of risk and number of previous births give birth in different settings. We’ve also personalised data if you’ve had a previous caesarean. This personalisation is only currently possible for England.

This means that 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.

We do this because studies conducted for the National Institute for Health Research’s 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. Therefore comparing yourself with women similar to you in these two senses provides a more realistic idea of what sort of experience you might have.

For more detailed information about using birth statistics, read our guide to birth statistics.

More from Which?


References

These are the sources of information used in this article:

Maternity Care Working Party,Making normal birth a reality. Consensus statement from the Maternity Care Working Party: our shared views about the need to recognise, facilitate and audit normal birth, National Childbirth Trust; Royal College of Midwives; Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2007)

RCOG, 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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