What’s the difference between a birthing unit and a maternity department in a big hospital?
Birthing Units are normally run by Midwives and have few ‘medical’ interventions, allowing you to focus on a more normal birth. Birthing Units can be situated next to a main hospital maternity unit or on a completely separate site. Occasionally, you can have a very similar experience to a birthing unit facility within the actual Maternity Unit, where Midwives actually provide total care within a dedicated area of the maternity unit. Since the majority of women give birth without actually needing medical intervention, these units can provide a very good alternative to a more medicalized hospital environment.
The environment of a Birthing Unit or Centre tends to be more relaxed and flexible which may appeal if you want a homebirth atmosphere with added support. Birthing in such a facility also means that you will benefit from continuous support from the midwives, which will increase your chances of having a straightforward birth 1.
To be eligible to birth within such a facility, you do need to be experiencing a ‘normal’ pregnancy, that is a pregnancy with no complications that may require more specialised medical care or monitoring in labour. Labouring in a large maternity unit you can be subject to a variety of guidelines and policies not have the same degree of flexibility but would be able to access such as an ‘epidural’ service and of course should emergency intervention be necessary, the Doctors are close at hand. Should complications occur during your labour or birth at the Birthing Unit, you would need to be transferred to the nearest Maternity Unit although this is rare due to the careful screening process identifying ‘low risk’ pregnancy.
1Campbell R, Macfarlane A: Where to be born? The debate and the evidence. 1994