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Baby & child.

Updated: 1 Jun 2022

How to choose a maternity unit

Whether you’re deciding between a labour ward or birth centre, or choosing from a number of local hospital options, our checklist of questions to ask the midwife can help you determine if a unit is right for you.
Martha Roberts

What questions should I ask about the maternity unit?

Everyone has different thoughts on their ideal birth environment so it's good to think about which aspects of birth are important to you.

Below, we have listed some of the questions you may like to ask about where you can give birth, whether it's a labour ward in a hospital or a birth centre (alongside or freestanding). You can use the list as a starting point when thinking about what you’d like to know about the unit and midwives.

You can also download and print off our checklist for when you visit the unit, or when you next see your midwife. 

When you meet your midwife, they will discuss maternity services near you but remember - if you're happy to travel, you may choose any maternity services you like, depending on various factors including your needs and risks.

Want to know more about the options? Use our Where to give birth tool to find the best maternity options for you to discuss with your midwife, whether it's giving birth at home, in a birth centre or in a labour ward.

Can I go on a tour of maternity units?

Some maternity units offer tours to expectant parents, usually in the third trimester, which can be really helpful in preparing for birth.

However, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, things may still be a little different to how they used to be.

An RCOG spokesperson told Which?: 'The availability of tours will depend on what restrictions are in place at different Trusts and hospitals due to Covid-19. We’d encourage women to ask about visiting their maternity wards, but the situation will differ from hospital to hospital.'

Some hospitals offer virtual tours of the maternity units as they may not be able to offer them in-person.

To find out if your unit offers tours, talk to your midwife or contact the maternity unit directly.

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.

What is this maternity unit like?

  • What type of maternity unit is this? Is it a labour ward (obstetric unit) led by doctors, or is it a birth centre (midwifery-led unit)?
  • If it’s a birth centre, are there restrictions on who can give birth here? For example, based on age of mother, weeks of pregnancy, Group B Strep positive, or BMI (body mass index)?
  • Are co-parents, close relatives or friends welcome in the delivery room and will they ever be asked to leave the room - if so, why?
  • How many delivery rooms are there?
  • Does this unit ever close and, if so, for what reasons? Where will I be asked to go if this unit is closed when I go into labour?
  • Can I take a tour of the unit? If so, how do I arrange this?

Choosing a place to give birth: labour ward, birth centre or home birth.

How will I be cared for during my pregnancy?

  • Can I get continuity of care (be looked after by the same midwife or group of midwives throughout my pregnancy) if I book in with this unit?
  • Where will my antenatal care take place? Can I choose where?
  • Can I do birth preparation classes at this hospital? When would I need to book? Are these classes taught by midwives or antenatal teachers?

Read more about your antenatal care

Who will look after me when I’m in labour?

  • Does this unit have midwives trained in hypnobirthing or aromatherapy?
  • 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 be able to attend to a woman using a birth pool?
  • 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?
  • Will I be able to see the same midwife during labour as for my antenatal appointments?
  • How many birth partners can I have with me?
  • Can I move around in labour and find my own birth position?

Find out about writing a birth plan

What pain relief and comfort methods will I have access to in labour?

  • Will I be able to use self-help methods such as hypnobirthing or aromatherapy here?
  • Which pain relief drug does this unit offer: pethidine, diamorphine or meptid?
  • Does the unit have a dedicated anaesthetist and are epidurals available 24-hours-a-day?
  • Can I borrow or hire a TENs machine or do I need to bring my own?
  • What non-medical equipment is available to use during labour, e.g. birth ball, bean bags, cushions, floor mats?

Read more about your pain relief options

Can I use a birth pool?

  • How many of the delivery rooms have a birth pool?
  • How often are all pools occupied?
  • Can I bring a hired pool into the unit?
  • How many women use the pool for pain relief and what percentage of babies are born in water in this unit?

Find out more about using water in labour

How likely am I to have interventions if I give birth here?

  • What percentage of women giving birth at this unit have their labour induced?
  • What percentage of women have their birth assisted by forceps or ventouse cap at this unit?
  • What percentage of women give birth by emergency c-section at this unit?
  • What percentage of women attempting to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) at this unit are successful?

Understand when and why interventions may be recommended

How will this unit support me if I’ve had a previous c-section or am at higher risk of complications?

  • 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 (vaginal birth after caesarean)?
  • If I agree to be continuously monitored, can it be arranged for me to remain upright and mobile?
  • Will I be supported in my decision if I want intermittent monitoring rather than continuous monitoring?
  • Will I be able to give birth in the midwife-led birth centre?
  • Will this unit support me if I want to have a home birth?
  • If I’m advised to give birth on the labour ward and agree to it, how can I make the environment as homely as possible?

Read more about having a c-section

Will this unit support my accessibility requirements and individual preferences?

  • Is there easy wheelchair access to the delivery suite and the wards?
  • Does the hospital provide equipment to help disabled women in labour?
  • Does this unit have specialist midwifery teams? For example, diabetes, perinatal mental health or smoking cessation.
  • Are female doctors always available?
  • Does the hospital provide an interpreting service for women who would prefer to speak their own language?

How does this unit help mothers in their feeding choices?

  • Does this maternity unit have a Baby Friendly award?
  • Does this maternity unit employ a breastfeeding specialist or counsellor who can help me getting started with breastfeeding my baby, either while I’m in hospital or after I’ve gone home?
  • Who will help me if I choose to formula feed?

Find out more about establishing breastfeeding

What care will I receive after my baby is born?

  • Assuming there are no problems, how long will I stay in the unit after my baby is born?
  • Will my baby be with me all the time or is there a separate nursery?
  • If I have to be moved to a postnatal ward, how many women will be in the ward?
  • What are the visiting hours for my partner and family members, and are there any special rules about visiting?
  • Can my partner stay overnight with me after the baby is born?
  • Are there private rooms on the postnatal ward? If so, how much does this cost?
  • Is there a special care unit here if my baby should need it after birth - for example, if they are premature or sick? If not, where would my baby be transferred to?
  • Can I see the same midwives for postnatal appointments as I do during my pregnancy and birth?

Read more about your postnatal care