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NHS vs private maternity care: what are your options?

Most women in the UK get their maternity care for free through the NHS, but there are also private options available. From paying for scans to private hospitals, this guide explains what services are available before, during and after the birth.

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What maternity care can I get on the NHS? 

Most women in the UK are supported by free NHS care throughout their pregnancy and birth.

NHS antenatal care

With the NHS, you get seven to ten antenatal appointments with a midwife, as well as blood tests and at least two free ultrasound scans. If you have more complicated needs, you’ll also see a consultant doctor in addition to your midwife appointments.

NHS care when giving birth

Most women have their baby in an NHS maternity unit. If you choose to have a home birth, two NHS midwives will come to your home to support you as your baby’s being born.

Whether you give birth in a birth centre or a labour ward, you’ll always have your own room for the birth itself and be looked after by midwives. However, if you’re induced you may need to spend time on a shared antenatal ward.

Similarly, if you need to stay overnight after the birth it’s likely you’ll be moved to a postnatal ward where you’ll be sharing a room and bathroom with a number of other women and their babies.

NHS postnatal care

You’ll have postnatal appointments with NHS midwives once you’re back home. This may be at your home, or at a local clinic or children’s centre. The number of appointments vary, but most women see a midwife three or four times.

How can I enhance my NHS maternity care? 

You can choose to ‘mix and match’ NHS and private care, or pay for certain additional services, to give you extra reassurance or comfort when you want it.

Private pregnancy scans and blood tests

In our guide to NHS and private ultrasound scans we run through which scans you’ll be offered by the NHS, and what’s available privately.

In our 2016 survey, one in six parents told us they had paid for an additional scan during pregnancy, costing them just over £100 on average. For more than half of parents, the key reason for paying for a scan privately was to get detailed 3D and 4D images of their baby.

A small number of parents said they paid for additional blood tests (4%), often to check for health conditions and for additional reassurance.

Private amenity room after the birth

Women having an NHS birth sometimes choose to pay to hire a private ‘amenity’ room within the NHS maternity unit. The rooms are often just off the postnatal ward, and usually cost around £70 a night, but can range between about £25 and £200. The midwives looking after you will still be NHS midwives.

Around 5% of women in our survey decided to pay for a private room in an NHS hospital when they gave birth. The majority told us this was because they wanted more privacy after giving birth.

Hiring a doula

A doula is not a health professional, but a person who has training in supporting expectant and new parents.

Your doula can work with you during your pregnancy, be with you as a birth partner when you give birth, or provide support in the early days at home with your baby all depending on what support you feel you need.

Most parents in our survey who chose to pay for a doula did so for postnatal support, to learn more about looking after a baby, and to get personalised, one-to-one help.

Hiring a doula costs upwards of two hundred pounds.

Can I give birth in a private hospital? 

Yes, you can choose to give birth in a private maternity hospital, or within a private wing of an NHS hospital.

You can also choose to receive some or all of your antenatal care from obstetricians and midwives in private clinics and hospitals.

It is worth noting that most private hospitals or private maternity wards are located in London and the south of England.

How much does it cost to give birth at a private hospital?

Packages will vary between different hospitals, but most births cost more than the price of a private midwife (£5,000).

If you require an obstetrician, you will have to pay their fees on top of the fees for the birth, and every night at the hospital will add more to your bill.

What is it like to give birth in a private hospital?

If you’re giving birth in a private hospital, or on a private wing, your obstetrician will usually look after you in labour, but you can also have midwife-led care.

If you would prefer to have an elective c-section, you may find that you have to jump through fewer hoops to get the birth you want at a private hospital, compared to if you’re booked in with the NHS.

Once you’ve given birth, you’ll have a private en-suite room at the hospital with hotel-like facilities and catering. Private midwives will support you for your immediate postnatal care.

Why do parents choose to give birth in a private hospital?

In a survey of nearly 2,000 parents, we found that while most women give birth on the NHS, around 5% opted to give birth in a private hospital. Their main reason for doing so was to get ‘more personalised medical care’, closely followed by a desire for additional comfort.

Can I hire a private midwife? 

Yes, if you want more flexibility in your maternity care than the NHS can provide, you can look into hiring a private or independent midwife.

Having private care during labour from a private midwife costs around £2,000 – £5,000.

In this video, an independent midwife explains what she believes are the benefits of using a paid-for, non-NHS midwife for maternity care.

Antenatal care with a private midwife

It’s possible to have a private midwife for antenatal care but still give birth in an NHS hospital or birth centre. With a private midwife, you’re likely to be able to have relaxed antenatal appointments at a place and time of your choosing.

You’re also more likely to receive continuity of care than with the NHS. If you book with a private or independent midwife, you will usually be looked after by one or two midwives who will deliver all of your care.

In a recent study, the NCT found that women who see between one and four midwives during the antenatal period report a better quality of care than women who see five or more midwives.

Having an NHS birth with a private midwife

If you’re planning a hospital birth, you can still hire a private midwife to attend the birth with you, but many are not able to act as midwives once in an NHS hospital.

Instead, they will assume the role of birth partner, as Amanda from Independent Midwives UK explains in this video.

Having a home birth with a private midwife

Many women who choose to have an independent or private midwife are planning to have a home birth. Private midwives can be a good option if you’re finding it difficult to get support for a home birth from your local NHS services.

If you’re having a home birth with a private midwife, you may need to be transferred to hospital because you or your baby needs extra help. In this case, the NHS midwives and doctors in the hospital will take over your care. However, your private midwife will still be there to act as a supportive birth partner.

Postnatal care with a private midwife

Women who have given birth with private midwives can pay to carry on seeing the same midwife they had throughout their pregnancy, after the baby is born. Others may choose to supplement their NHS postnatal care by having additional private appointments as well.