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1 October 2020

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 giving birth.
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WhichEditorial team

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 10 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 during the birth.

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 varies, but most women tend to see a midwife three or four times postnatally.

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 can cost up to £450 a night, according to 2018 research. 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. They're not there to replace midwives or other health professionals.

Your doula can work with you during your pregnancy, be with you as a birth partner or advocate when you give birth, or provide support in the early days at home with your baby. What they offer can be tailored to the 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.

A birth doula support package will usually cost between £800 and £2,000, depending on where you're located, your doula's level of experience and what's included in their fee.

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.

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

Packages will vary between different hospitals, but in 2020 the average cost of giving birth at a private hospital and staying overnight for one night was £5,850.

It’s worth noting that 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.

Not only that but other extras may include anaesthetist fees, paediatrician checks, routine pathology tests, and contingencies and emergencies such as Caesarean births or neonatal care.

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’ve decided you’d like an elective C-section, you may find you have to jump through fewer hoops to get the birth you want at a private hospital, compared with 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 within the NHS, around 5% opted to give birth in a private hospital.

Their main reason for going private was to get ‘more personalised medical care’, and 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 anywhere between £2,000 and £5,000.

Most independent midwives are happy to accept payment in instalments or flexible payment plans, and in some special circumstances they may consider caring for women for a reduced fee.

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

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, there's still the possibility that 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.

As well as providing continuity of care, a private midwife can assist if you're having problems with breastfeeding and will also be a familiar face if you've had a challenging or difficult birth.