All about birth centres

Birthing Centre
What is a birth centre?

Birth centres are maternity units that are usually staffed by midwives. They aim to offer a homely, rather than clinical, environment. 

Birth centres are especially good at supporting women who want a birth without medical interventions. Most are set up with furniture and facilities designed to help you feel calm and in control. The aim for birth centres is to treat labour and birth as a straightforward, normal thing to happen, rather than a risky event. 

You may also hear birth centres referred to as:

  • Community maternity units (CMUs) in Scotland.
  • Midwife-led units (MLUs).
  • Midwifery units.
  • Birthing centres.
  • Birthing units.

Some birth centres are separate from a hospital (freestanding midwifery unit), but many hospitals have midwife-led birth centres alongside their conventional, consultant-led, maternity units (alongside midwifery unit).

Who can use a birth centre?

You will probably only be able to book into a birth centre if your pregnancy is low-risk, and you have a good chance of having a normal birth, at full-term. Complications during a previous pregnancy or your current pregnancy may mean that your likelihood of being transferred to hospital during labour is increased, and your doctor or midwife may recommend that you give birth in a hospital instead. Some birth centres won’t accept you if you’re over a certain age, either. 

Your doctor or midwife may recommend that you don’t give birth in a birth centre, if, for example:

  • You have complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure or anaemia.
  • You have had complications or interventions in a previous pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, caesarean section, or a baby with shoulder dystocia.
  • Your baby has problems that have been picked up during pregnancy.
  • Your baby is at risk of being born early.
  • You’re having twins or more.

Some birth centres accept women from any area of the country. Others will only accept you if you are registered with a local GP, or are under the care of local community midwives. Most birth centres are happy to accept first-time mums whose pregnancies are going well.

If you would really like to use a birth centre, but have some complications or other risk factors, ask to meet a senior midwife or consultant at the hospital. They’ll be able to talk you through your options and help you work out whether a birth centre is right for you.


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