june 2019

What is a Birth Centre?

A Birth Centre in the UK is a unit that is separate from Delivery Suite or Labour Ward and Midwifery-Led to promote an active, normal labour and birth.

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Birth Centre in the UK is a unit that is separate from Delivery Suite or Labour Ward and Midwifery-Led to promote an active, normal labour and birth. This means that they have a more homely and comfortable feel to them, as they have less medical equipment and the environment is quieter, as generally the volume of staff is less than a labour ward would have.  

Why would I choose to birth at a Birth Centre? 

The ethos of a Birth Centre is to create a low key, less medicalised, home from home type of environment, as this is known to help women achieve a normal birth. If birth has as few unnecessary interventions, the outcomes for you and your baby are likely to be healthier ones. If you call your chosen Birth Centre, you can arrange to visit and see if you would like to give birth there.  

There are two types of Birth Centre: 

Alongside- these are situated either next to or in the same hospital as a Labour Ward, within nearby access of a medical team and neonatal or special care services. For many reasons, an alongside Birth Centre works more successfully if it is not next door or connected to a Labour Ward, for example, if it is separated by another floor or on the other side of the hospital. This is because it stands as a separate unit, therefore providing more privacy for women and families (essential for helping hormone production during labour) and prevents the merging of both patients and staff into one ward or unit. 

Freestanding- these are situated independently on their own, they do not have a Labour Ward attached or specialised medical teams and there are no neo-natal or special care services. If a problem develops your midwife will discuss why they recommend that you transfer to the nearest Labour Ward with you.

baby in birth centre

Is a Birth Centre the best place for me to have my baby? 

Most women who give birth in a Birth Centre have had a ‘low-risk’ first pregnancy or vaginal deliveries previously. However, if you do not fit their ideal criteria and would still like to give birth at a Birth Centre, you can meet with your doctor or midwife to discuss this. They will discuss the risk factors surrounding your pregnancy and labour and you will then be able to decide where you would like to give birth based on this information. Always remember that it is ultimately your choice where you decide to give birth, not anyone else’s. 

The advantages of going to a Birth Centre 

  • Most women find that a less medicalised environment is more relaxing. When you are more relaxed, your labour hormones work much more effectively, therefore increasing the chances of you having a normal birth and reducing the need for any possible interventions.  
  • Births Centres will have a water pool you can use during your labour and birth. Water has been proven to be a very effective method of pain relief in labour, research shows that it can also shorten your labour and reduce the extent of any tearing during the birth. You are more likely to avoid labouring and giving birth on a bed, as active, upright labour and birth is encouraged at Birth Centres. Remaining mobile can shorten your labour and help you to give birth normally without any assistance from a doctor. 
  • There is more active birth equipment available at Birth Centres such as ropes suspended from the ceiling to support you in labour, birth balls, mats, water pools and birth stools. 
  • You will have access to all the pain relief that is available on the Birth Centre, apart from an epidural. If you decide you would like an epidural, you would be able to transfer to the Labour Ward for this. 
  • Birth Centres are usually staffed by midwives who are experienced and confident in promoting normal birth. They will also be trained to deal with any emergencies, in the unlikely event this should happen and will recommend transfer to the Labour Ward if you or your baby need monitoring more closely. 
  • The midwife caring for you will be well trained to recognise if a problem is developing and can then recommend the appropriate care pathway for you. 



In summary, by booking to have your baby at a Birth Centre you are more likely to have a normal birth with less intervention than if you booked to have your baby on a Labour Ward. The less unnecessary intervention you have, the healthier you and your baby will be. If there are any problems detected on a Birth Centre, you can be transferred to the Labour Ward for closer monitoring. 


Image credit: Huddersfield Birth Centre