In recent years, there has been a growing interest in NHS freestanding (for stand-alone) midwife-led birth centres in the UK. These centres are located away from the local hospital and offer a home-from-home environment and an alternative to a clinical hospital setting or home birth. They are staffed exclusively by midwives. Research (1) has shown that midwife-led birth centres, and particularly freestanding sites can lead to better outcomes for both parents and babies, as well as a more satisfying birth experience overall.
You may have already heard about birth centres at the hospital site (these are available in most hospitals close by to the labour ward, sometimes on the same corridor even), but we are focusing on the freestanding (away from the hospital) options for this guide.
Cossham Birth Centre, Bristol
Many parents who we support say that birthing at a stand-alone birth centre has felt like being under private care (this is a free service provided by the NHS) as the experience is so personalised and reassuring. Partners can often stay overnight in their own bed, and well-stocked kitchen facilities are usually also available.
The midwives will see physiological birth every day and are trained to provide individualised care and support throughout the birth process.
One of the main benefits of midwife-led birth centres is the lower rates of interventions such as epidurals, forceps deliveries, episiotomies, and unplanned caesarean births. A study published in The Lancet 2014 (4) found that those who gave birth in midwife-led birth centres were less likely to experience these interventions compared to those who gave birth in hospital settings with consultant-led care available. This is significant because interventions during childbirth can increase the chance of complications and have long-term effects on both the parent and baby.
If interventions are needed, they can be life-saving. But we know from research that they could be avoided if birth is taking place in a more relaxed and calm environment.
Edgware Birth Centre, London
Another study published in the British Medical Journal compared outcomes for those who gave birth in midwife-led birth centres to those who gave birth in hospital settings. The researchers found that those who gave birth in midwife-led birth centres were less likely to have a caesarean birth and more likely to have a vaginal birth. This can be important for some people who’s preference is to birth vaginally.
Crowborough birth centre
There are currently 20+ stand-alone midwife-led birth centres in the UK. In order to stay open and keep receiving NHS funding, these spaces need to be used by the community so please do go and see your local freestanding birth centre if you are interested in this option. We find that often, parents do not realise that this is an option to them.
If you are interested in registering your antenatal care and birth with a standalone birth centre, simply call the team at the centre and arrange to go and meet them and see the space. Most centres will accept people right up until their due time but do leave enough time to transfer records and have blood tests and assessments re-taken. If you have any pregnancy conditions, do discuss them with the midwife team during the initial call as generally, only low risk pregnancies can birth in this setting.
Kitchen facilities for families at Crowborough Birth Centre
Locations of freestanding midwife-led Birth Centres in the UK
The information provided has been collated and sourced via the web on 6/4/23. Please do let us know if you believe any of the information requires updating.
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We are here to support you every step of the way. Learn about all of your birth place options and make informed decisions when you take a Mindful Birth Group® course:
References to studies:
- Birthplace in England Collaborative Group. Perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth for healthy women with low risk pregnancies: the Birthplace in England national prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2011 Nov 24;343:d7400. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d7400. PMID: 22116086; PMCID: PMC3222233. https://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d7400
- Hollowell J, Puddicombe D, Rowe R, Linsell L, Hardy P, Stewart M, Newburn M, McCourt C, Sandall J, Macfarlane A, Silverton L, Brocklehurst P. The Birthplace national prospective cohort study: perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth. BJOG. 2017 Jan;124(5):800-809. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.14178. Epub 2016 Oct 6. PMID: 27717202; PMCID: PMC5403599. https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1471-0528.14178
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies. Clinical guideline [CG190]. Published: 26 February 2021. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190
- Hatem M, Sandall J, Devane D, Soltani H, Gates S. Midwife-led versus other models of care for childbearing women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(9):CD004667. Published 2015 Sep 15. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004667.pub4