Birth centres, also known as midwife-led units, are maternity centres run by midwives. They’re like half-way houses between hospital and home births.
They don’t have specialist doctors or consultants, but some may have GPs attached to them. They aim to offer a warm, homely environment, compared to the more clinical set-up of a hospital. However, they are well-equipped and have experienced, expert staff.
In order to use a midwife-led unit you need to have a pregnancy that’s considered ‘low-risk’, with no existing complications.
What to expect: Birth centres can sometimes offer additional facilities that may not be available in your local hospital, such as birthing pools, homely birthing rooms, family rooms and complementary medicine. The idea is to create a relaxed, unhurried place to give both.
When you go into full labour, you head to the unit. Midwives will encourage you to be mobile or use a birthing pool, keeping labour as intervention free as possible. However, if any complications arise you’ll be transferred to a maternity unit with doctors on hand. Some birth centres are in the same hospital as standard hospital maternity units, others are on a different site.
How do I go about it? Speak to your midwife, who should know of units close to where you live. If you don’t have a unit locally, you can look further afield and see what’s available. Midwife-led units don’t charge as they’re NHS funded, but not all areas have one and you don’t want to travel too far when you’re in labour.
Advantages of a birth centre
- Birth centres are normally more relaxed than hopsital maternity units. You may find you have access to your own room plus private bathroom, where you and your partner can stay
- Statistics show that women who start their labour in birth centres have few interventions (even if they are later transferred to hopsital) than low-risk women booked for a hospital birth
- Women who give birth in birth centres generally have fewer difficulties with breastfeeding their babies
Disadvantages of a birth centre
- Birth centres can only accept women who are likely to have straightforward labours that should need littleor no intervention
- You may not have access to as many pain relief options as a hospital maternity unit
- Birth centres aren’t available throughout the whole of the UK
- While NHS birth centres are free, there are also private ones, which can be pricey
“I felt so relaxed”
“I wanted a home birth with my first child, but my husband was nervous about it so we settled on the birth centre as a ‘halfway house’. It was very homely, but also reassuring to have midwives on hand as well. The birth went well and set me up for motherhood perfectly.”
Julie Maddley, 31, from Leicester, mum to Ben, 11 months
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