Your choices for giving birth

Most women give birth on a maternity unit in a hospital, but this isn’t the only option. There are a variety of places where you may have your baby, depending on what is available in your area.

Where to give birth

Your midwife will discuss home birth with you and the different birth units available to you during your pregnancy.

In some areas, there is a greater choice due to the availability of midwife-led units, and in others, the choice is between hospital and home birth.

Before you make your choice, you need information on any advantages or disadvantages there might be.

Home birth

If you are having a straightforward pregnancy and have no other complications, you may wish to consider this option. Women who choose to have their babies at home report high satisfaction levels through being more in control.

If you are planning on having a home birth, you should discuss this with your midwife at the earliest opportunity. They will advise you if this is a safe option for you.

Consultant-lead unit

Many women will be advised to give birth in a consultant-led hospital maternity unit. If this is the safest option for you and your baby, you will be looked after by a midwife, but doctors will be available if you need their help. Some women who do not expect to have complications also choose to give birth in these units.

Your midwife and doctors will provide you with information about what your hospital can offer, but the advantages include:

  • direct access to obstetricians, anaesthetists and neonatologists
  • access to specialist services such as epidurals to relieve pain
  • a paediatrician will be available

Freestanding midwife-led units

Some areas of Northern Ireland have freestanding midwife-led units or community maternity units. These are staffed by midwives for women who are having a straightforward pregnancy with no anticipated problems in labour. These units can be in a smaller community hospital or completely separate.

Your care in labour will be provided by midwives and if there is a problem, you will be immediately transferred by ambulance to the local consultant-led unit.

It is also worth remembering that epidurals are not available in a midwife-led unit. Your doctor or midwife will advise you if this is a safe option for you.

The advantages of giving birth in a midwife-led unit include:

  • giving birth in surroundings where you may feel more relaxed and able to cope with labour
  • you are more likely to be cared for by a midwife you have gotten to know during your pregnancy

Alongside midwife-led unit

Most of the consultant-led units in Northern Ireland have midwife-led units attached to them. These are staffed by midwives and provide a more homely and normal environment for your labour and birth, usually with the option of a waterbirth.

As these units are attached to consultant-led units, if you need to be transferred this can been done by moving you on your bed.

Planning a hospital birth

If there is more than one hospital in your area, you may have a choice of where to go.

There are some questions you should ask when deciding which will suit you best, including:

  • are tours of the facilities available
  • when can I discuss my birth plan
  • are TENS machines available or do I need to hire one
  • what other equipment is available, such as mats, birthing chair or beanbags
  • are there birthing pools
  • are partners, close friends or relatives allowed in the delivery room
  • are birthing partners ever asked to leave the room
  • can I move around in labour and find my own position for the birth
  • what services are provided for sick babies

Birth preferences

Birth preferences is a record of what you would like to happen during labour and after the birth.

You don’t have to create a birth preferences, but if you want to, your midwife will be able to help.

Discussing your birth preferences with your midwife will give you the chance to ask questions and find out more about what happens during labour. It also gives your midwife the chance to get to know you better and understand your priorities.

You will probably want to discuss some things with the baby’s father and your friends and relatives. It will also depend on your medical history, circumstances and what is available at your maternity service.

What may be practical and safe for one woman may not be for another. You can change your birth preferences at any time.

You can write your own birth preferences or use the outline form in your green MHHR notes. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of your birth preferences with you.

Your maternity team will discuss your preferences with you, but you may need to be flexible if there are any complications.

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