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Compare maternity options: labour ward, birth centre or home birth

In the UK, you can generally choose to give birth in a labour ward, birth centre or at home. Explore the differences between the options when deciding where to give birth.

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What are the options?

  • Labour ward: In the maternity unit of a hospital, with medical facilities and doctors on hand if you need them.
  • Birth centre: A more homely environment led by midwives, where the focus is on birth without medical intervention. There are alongside midwifery-led units (on the same site as a hospital) or freestanding birth centres (in a separate location).
  • Home birth: Two midwives come to your home to support you during labour and as you give birth.

Use our Where to give birth tool and answer a few simple questions to find out which birth setting best suits your personal preferences.

Who will care for me?

  • Labour ward: You’ll be looked after by midwives, and doctors will be there if you need them.
  • Birth centre: Midwives will care for you.
  • Home birth: Midwives will care for you.

Find out more about your antenatal care.

What pain relief is available?

  • Labour ward: All medical pain relief options, including epidurals, are available, as well as gas and air. Talk to your midwife about using self-help methods including hypnobirthing or massage.
  • Birth centre: You can use gas and air as well as natural pain-relief methods. Opioid drugs such as pethidine are sometimes available.
  • Home birth: Your midwife can bring gas and air and you can buy or hire a Tens machine. If you decide you want stronger pain relief, you’ll need to transfer to a labour ward.

Find out more about your pain relief options.

Can I have a water birth?

  • Labour ward: Birth pools might be available ask your midwife about your hospital’s facilities.
  • Birth centre: Birth pools are usually available ask your midwife how many rooms have a birth pool.
  • Home birth: You can hire or buy a birth pool to use at home.

Find out more about planning a water birth or using a birth pool in labour.

What if I need medical help?

  • Labour ward: Doctors and neonatal specialists are available, and you can have a caesarean if you need one.
  • Birth centre: From a freestanding birth centre you’ll be taken to hospital in an ambulance. If you're in an alongside birth centre, you'll be moved within the hospital.
  • Home birth: You'll be taken to hospital in an ambulance and your midwife will come with you.

Find out more about safety and interventions during labour.

How safe is it for babies of healthy, low risk women?

  • Labour ward: As safe as planning birth in a birth centre.
  • Birth centre: As safe as planning birth in a labour ward.
  • Home birth: As safe as planning birth in a labour ward or a birth centre for those who have given birth before. For first-time mums, there’s a small increase in risk to the baby.

Find out how the birth setting you choose can affect your experience.

What happens after the birth?

  • Labour ward: You'll be discharged within a few hours after a straightforward birth. If you or your baby need more care, you'll both be moved to the hospital's postnatal ward.
  • Birth centre: You'll be discharged within a few hours after a straightforward birth. If you or your baby need hospital care, you'll both be taken to a postnatal ward.
  • Home birth: Your midwives will stay with you for a couple of hours after a straightforward birth. If you or your baby need hospital care, you'll both be taken to a postnatal ward.

Find out more about your postnatal care.

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