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Baby & child.

12 July 2021

Birth centres or midwifery unit

Birth centres are midwife-led units where the environment is more homely, and the focus is on birth without medical intervention.
Martha Roberts
Bo birth centre 483760

Pros of giving birth in a birth centre 

  • Access to medical pain relief such as an epidural is not important to you.
  • You're more likely to get to use a birth pool in a birth centre than in a labour ward.
  • Statistically, giving birth in a birth centre is slightly safer for your baby than having a home birth if this is your first baby.
  • Many birth centres have double beds and allow your partner to stay overnight after your baby is born.

Cons of giving birth in a birth centre

  • You'll need to transfer to a hospital labour ward if you want an epidural or there are complications.
  • Some birth centres don't have birth pools in every room, so you may not be guaranteed one.
  • You may not meet the birth centre's admission criteria, for example if your baby is breech.
  • There might not be a birth centre near to where you live.

Use our Where to give birth tool – answer a few simple questions and discover whether a local labour ward, birth centre or home birth would be best for you.

What is a birth centre like?

Birth centres are also called midwife-led units. There are two types:

  • An alongside birth centre – at a hospital which also has a labour ward. This is also called a co-located birth centre.
  • A freestanding birth centre – in a separate location to the main hospital, often in a small community hospital or in a purpose-built building. This is also called a standalone birth centre or, in Scotland, a community maternity unit.

Birth centres tend to have a friendly ‘home-from-home’ atmosphere with an emphasis on birth without medical interventions. This can make you feel more relaxed, which may make your labour easier.

Birth pools are often provided so you can use water to help cope with pain in labour. You’re more likely to use water to help cope with pain during labour in a birth centre than a labour ward.

You can usually only plan to give birth in a birth centre if you’re having a straightforward pregnancy, as there are limited medical facilities.

Alicia, Lyssa and Claire talk about what it was like for them and things you should consider if you’re thinking of giving birth in a birth centre, in the video below.

Will I get to know my midwives before the birth?

In some areas you can choose the birth centre early on in your pregnancy. You’re then more likely to be looked after by a small team of midwives, who will get to know you before you go into labour.

In other hospitals, you’ll only be able to book the birth centre later on in pregnancy. Up till then, you’ll receive the same antenatal care as women who are booked to give birth on the labour ward.

Who will look after me during labour?

The midwives looking after you in birth centres are experts in complication-free pregnancy and birth.

They often have more experience of natural pain relief methods such as hypnobirthing and aromatherapy to support you through birth.

What happens if I need to go to the hospital?

If complications do happen during birth, such as if you need a doctor or decide you’d like to have an epidural, the midwives will make sure that you’re transferred to a labour ward.

For alongside birth centres, the labour ward will be very close by – usually in the same building. You can expect a journey by road if you’re in a freestanding birth centre, either in your own car or in an ambulance.

What happens after I give birth?

You can usually stay with your new baby and birth partner in the same room where you delivered for the first few hours after birth to rest, have check-ups and make sure your baby has their first feed.

As long as everything is well, you’ll normally be able to go home within six hours of the birth. Many birth centres allow you to stay overnight if you want to though, and some have en-suite private rooms that you, your baby and your partner can stay in together.

If you or your baby need additional medical help after the birth, you’ll both be transferred from the birth centre to the nearest postnatal ward.

  • If you’re in an alongside birth centre, the postnatal ward is in the same building so you just need to be taken through the hospital on a bed or in a wheelchair.
  • If you’re in a freestanding birth centre, you’ll be transferred to the nearest maternity hospital in an ambulance.

Read more about what to expect on the postnatal ward.

Is it safe for me to give birth in a birth centre?

If you’re a first-time mum and having a straightforward pregnancy, planning to give birth in a birth centre is particularly suitable for you because it’s as safe for your baby as planning to give birth in a labour ward, and you’re less likely to have medical interventions.

Similarly, if this is your second, third or fourth baby then choosing a birth centre is as safe as giving birth in a labour ward but with a reduced chance of medical interventions.

If you’re unsure about eligibility for a birth centre, speak to your midwife.