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What exactly is a hospital birthing unit?

There are many different choices available to the pregnant woman as to where she might like to have her baby born. If this is a second baby and there were complications previously, such as requiring a caesarean section or, if there was a large bleed, your midwife might recommend that you have your baby in hospital. If this is your first baby and there are complications, such as multiple pregnancy, diabetes or high blood pressure, your midwife might again recommend that you have your baby in hospital1. If everything has been normal, you should be offered the option of delivering your baby at home; in a birthing centre (if one is available in the vicinity); in a hospital birthing unit, or in the hospital obstetric unit itself. This is your pregnancy and you should be able to make an ‘informed’ choice as to what you want to happen in your labour. It a good idea to write your choices and decisions in a birth plan, so that the midwife can read what you want in your confinement2.

A hospital birthing unit is sometimes called a midwifery-led unit. It is much like a birthing centre, being run by midwives, no ‘high tech equipment’, no input from medical staff, and use of epidurals for pain relief. However, unlike a ‘stand-alone’ birthing centre, which may be some way from a hospital maternity unit containing emergency equipment, operating theatres and doctors, a hospital birthing unit is situated within the hospital delivery suite, or is very nearby. Again, there is little medicalisation and doctors are not invited onto the unit3. However, should there be an emergency or you want an epidural, instead of having to await transfer to a hospital by ambulance, the midwife can transfer you rapidly to the delivery suite on site.

1NICE (2007) CG55 - Intrapartum Care: Care of healthy women and their babies during childbirth. National Institute of Clinical Excellence.
2Kirkham M (2004) Informed Choice in Maternity Care. MacMillan Palegrave
3MIDIRS (2005) Informed Choice: Where Will You Have Your Baby? MIDIRS

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