In the UK, about 2.5% of babies are born at home. If you choose a home birth, you'll make a detailed plan with your community midwife, and usually she or one of the midwives from her team will be with you for your labour and birth. A second midwife is usually called in just before the birth to help care for your new baby while the first midwife is looking after you.
There are advantages to having a home birth: being in familiar surroundings can help you relax, your labour won't be interrupted by a trip to hospital, and your partner can be with you at all times.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind. In some circumstances you may still need to transfer to a hospital; your midwife will give you information about this. Your pain relief options are more limited at home – in most cases, just gas and air.
In some situations, your midwife might advise against a home birth:
- if there are any complications during your pregnancy
- if you are expecting twins
- if your baby is very big or very small
- if your baby is lying in the breech position
- if you've had a complicated labour and delivery before
Birth centres/midwifery units
If you're not keen on hospital, but don't feel confident opting for a home birth, you might want to consider a birth centre. Birth centres can be part of a hospital complex or stand-alone units, and they tend to offer a more homely atmosphere than a hospital ward.
Birth centres are staffed by midwives, not doctors, so women giving birth here are less likely to have medical interventions like a forceps delivery. (If you need an intervention, your midwife will transfer you to the nearest maternity hospital.) Many of these centres also have birthing pools available, which some women find very helpful during labour.
If your centre isn't part of a hospital, however, you might not be able to opt for an epidural for pain relief, so it's worth checking this with your midwife beforehand.
If you're interested in using a birth centre, you can ask your community midwife if there are any in your area. Even if there aren’t, many hospitals now offer similar units as part of their maternity care.
Most women in the UK give birth in their local maternity unit or hospital. If you choose this option, you'll still be looked after by midwives, and in many cases women do not see a doctor at all.
However, obstetric doctors and neonatologists (specialist baby doctors) are close by should you need to see one during your labour. Anaesthetists are also available if you decide you need an epidural for pain relief.
If you live in a large city or town, you may have several maternity units to choose from; most offer prearranged tours to help you make your choice.
For more information on choosing where to give birth, ask your midwife or visit the NHS Choices website.