Whether you’re actively looking forward to labour, or trying not to think about it, it’s worth considering your different birthing options.
Many mums-to-be prefer to give birth in hospital, where there is medical assistance and pain relief on hand should they need it, but there are other possibilities, including:
However, where you can give birth depends on your particular pregnancy, and what services are available where you live.
Is it best to have my baby in hospital?
There are definite positives to having your baby at hospital, such as having medical care on hand if there were any unforeseen problems, which can be very reassuring.
You can choose not to have your baby in hospital, however you may be advised to if:
- You have any health problems.
- There have been complications during your pregnancy.
- You live in a hard-to-reach area where emergency services can’t reach you.
- You’ve had complications during a previous birth.
- You have a low-lying placenta, also known as placenta praevia.
- You’re expecting twins.
If you decide on a hospital birth, make sure you visit the hospital first to find out what to expect during labour and after your baby is born.
A mum says...
With my first baby, I felt quite strongly that I wanted to be in hospital, just in case. But with my second, I was much more confident and really wanted to be in my own home. The midwives were brilliant, and I loved being in a more peaceful, comfortable environment. And Millie got to meet her new baby brother straightaway too!
Zoe, mum of Millie, 2 and Jack, 4 months
Can I have my baby at home?
As long as your midwife feels that your pregnancy is going to plan, and that you’re in good health, you should be able to have your baby at home.
What are the benefits of a home birth?
- You may feel more comfortable, in control and secure.
- The environment should be calmer, quieter and reassuring.
- If it’s not your first child and your last labour was fast, you don’t need to worry about getting to the hospital in time.
Who will be there?
Two midwives from your area’s team will look after you during labour and deliver your baby.
How do I plan a home birth?
Talk to your midwife, so that your choice is recorded in your maternity notes.
The expert view
“Having a baby at home is just as safe as giving birth in hospital if you’re healthy, your pregnancy has been normal and there are no risk factors for your labour. Speak to your midwifery team who will be keen to support your decision, but also bear in mind that labour can be unpredictable and if your midwife foresees any complication, she will err on the side of caution and advise a hospital birth; particularly if it’s your first baby.” Sharon Broad, Midwife
What equipment do I need?
There isn’t much you need to organise in advance. Check with your midwife to see what equipment she will bring. You will need:
- Plastic sheets to cover the surface where you’re giving birth.
- Old sheets or towels.
- 1 or 2 plastic containers, in case you throw up.
- A desk light so that your midwife can see clearly.
It’s also a good idea to pack your bag, as if you were going to hospital, so that you have everything you need to hand.
What if I change my mind?
No problem; you can go into hospital at any time during your labour.
What are the disadvantages?
If there are any problems, you’ll need to be transferred to hospital by ambulance, eg if your labour is taking a long time, your baby is in distress or if you need additional pain relief, such as an epidural.
Where can I find out more?
- www.birthchoiceuk.com .
- National Childbirth Trust on 0870 444 8709.
- Home Birth Reference Site.
Some women find that the warm water of a birthing pool helps them relax and cope with labour better. In fact, mums-to-be who use pools tend to need less pain relief, and may have shorter labours. See our real birth video page for a look at how water birth can help control pain.
Are there any risks?
No. Babies born in birthing pools have similar Apgar scores to other babies, and there’s no increased risk of infection.
What are the benefits?
- Helps relieve pain and reduce stress.
- With the water supporting you, it’s easier to change positions.
- It can reduce the risk of needing an episiotomy.
- You can use gas and air (entonox) while in the pool.
Can anyone have a water birth?
No, there are guidelines, so ask your midwife which apply at your hospital. If you’re in good health, have had no complications during pregnancy and carry your baby to term, you should be able to.
Can I have a water birth at hospital?
Some hospitals and birth centres have birthing pools, although it’s not possible to guarantee it will be available when you go into labour. Call the labour ward when you go into labour to let them know you’d like to use it if it’s free.
Can I have a water birth at home?
You can hire or buy a pool to use at home. You need to make sure there’s an area in your home where it can safely be put up, and the pool company should be able to offer advice.
Do I have to give birth in the pool?
No, you can choose to leave the pool, or re-enter, at any time during labour. Some women prefer to labour in the pool but then give birth on dry land!
How can I find out more about water birth?
Your midwife will probably talk about water births during your antenatal classes, and you may be able to go and see the birthing pool at your hospital.
Other sources of information include:
- The Water Birth Book by Janet Balaskas (published by Harper Collins)
- Waterbirth: An Attitude to Care by Dianne Garland (published by Books for Midwives)
- The National Childbirth Trust
- The Home Birth Reference site.
A mum says...
“Being in the birthing pool was a great experience while I was in labour; it’s so warm and relaxing and really helped me cope with the contractions. I’d wanted to give birth in the pool, but my contractions slowed and I had to get out. It didn’t quite go as I’d planned, but as soon as I held my son in my arms, nothing else mattered.” Helen, mum of Cody, 6
What is a birth centre?
Birth centres are dedicated maternity units, which provide a more relaxed and homely alternative to a hospital ward. Usually run by midwives, they aim to give mums a more natural experience – somewhere between a hospital and a home birth.
Can anyone use them?
Birth centres are only suitable for low risk births with no likely complications, so you’ll only be able to use one if you’re expected to have a normal delivery at full term.
How to I book into a birth centre?
Your midwife will be able to tell you if there’s one near you, and she’ll book you in. If there isn’t, you may be able to book into one that’s further way, if you’re comfortable doing so.
What do birth centres offer?
Facilities may include:
- Comfortable birthing rooms
- Complementary therapies
- Birthing pools
- One-to-one care throughout your labour
- Private rooms with ensuite bathroom
What are the benefits?
You should find:
- The environment is relaxed and comforting.
- It's easier to manage your contractions without strong pain relief.
- There’s a lower risk of tearing or episiotomy.
What if I need medical help?
You’ll be transferred straightaway to a nearby hospital, which may even be on site.
What are the disadvantages?
Birth centres do not usually offer:
If you need to be transferred to a hospital, it can feel quite stressful and upsetting. Your midwife will take good care of you and your baby however, and the medical team will be standing by.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that, if your local birth centre isn’t NHS-run, it could be costly.
The expert view
“Giving birth is such an incredible moment, and birth centres aim to make it as positive an experience as possible, within a supportive and safe environment. The midwives who run the centres are highly trained, and hospital back-up is never far away.” Sharon Broad, Midwife