Official figures show that 269 women last year took advantage of a European Union scheme allowing them to give birth in the European country of their choice.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said that most of the maternity cases involved women with relatives abroad who wanted to give birth near to their families. The same scheme allows British women living on the continent to return to the UK to give birth in an NHS hospital.
Details provided by health minister Dawn Primarolo in response to a parliamentary question from Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb showed that the country where most women went to give birth was France, with 104, followed by Germany on 44, Spain on 27 and Poland and Belgium, each on 21.
Mr Lamb said: “These figures shed light on this unknown but seemingly widespread practice, and raise a number of questions.
“How much is all this costing? Previous schemes suggest this could be more costly than standard NHS care. Are we paying over the odds at a time when midwives are concerned about money for new staff and training?
“Is this safe? Travelling when heavily pregnant can be risky for the expectant mother. Yet, the NHS is encouraging pregnant women to do just that. The Government must be clearer about the reasons and costs for sending patients abroad for treatment.”
The Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Under European Commission regulations women are entitled to select which EEA (European Economic Area) member state they wish to give birth in. Some, understandably, opt to go to a country where they or their partners are from.”