Birth centres are a smaller place to give birth, led by midwives, where the emphasis is on a natural birth.

Birth centres

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has two birth centres: One at Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital and the other at St Mary’s Hospital.

Why might I consider the birth centre?

  • You want to give birth in a small friendly environment
  • You feel that with the right support you could have a natural birth
  • You want to be able to use water in labour
  • You would prefer to avoid having medical interventions
  • You would like to have the chance to get to know your midwives before the birth

If you are healthy and having a straightforward pregnancy, planning to have your baby in the birth centre is particularly suitable for you. It is as safe for your baby as planning to give birth in the labour ward. You are also more likely to have a natural birth and less likely to have medical interventions such as an episiotomy, a caesarean or instrumental birth and a blood transfusion.

Healthy women with a straightforward pregnancy are referred to us by their midwife or obstetrician by 34 weeks. We will then make contact, inviting you to a birth preparation group at 36 weeks so you understand what birth centre care involves.

If it is your first pregnancy, we then see you for antenatal appointments at 38, 40 and 41 weeks and up to 13 days over your due date. If it is your second or a subsequent pregnancy, we see you at 38 and 41 weeks and up to 13 days over your due date. 

Who can attend my labour?

We encourage your partner to be present as you labour and give birth. You are also welcome to invite another companion to attend your birth. This could be a doula, another family member or a close friend. If your labour continues into the night, we may be able to provide a foldaway bed for your partner. We recommend that your partner bring a pillow, a blanket, a book or tablet and some food and drink.

What will help me cope with the pain of labour?

There are now a number of studies which show that women who give birth in birth centres use less pain relief such as epidurals or diamorphine/pethidine.

Our birth centres have pools. Many women use these birth pools and find the deep warm water helpful for labour and birth. We also use Entonox (gas and nitrous oxide). We encourage you to be active and to move around. We have mats, bean bags, couches, stools and slings to support you in upright positions. Your midwife will help you focus and relax in an environment which is designed to do just that. Once you have given birth in the birth centre, you will stay there to recover until you are ready to go home. Please note that if you are confident that you will want an epidural during labour, you should plan to give birth on the labour ward.

What if I experience complications during labour?

Our birth centre teams include midwives, students and maternity support workers. You will be cared for in labour by one of our midwives but if complications develop you will be transferred to our labour ward where you will meet the medical team, including obstetricians and anaesthetists. At our hospitals, the birth centres and labour wards are close together. In many cases, women are able to walk to the labour ward, but occasionally we may use a wheelchair or a trolley to transfer you to the labour ward.

Our transfer rates in labour are between 15 and 19 per cent overall. About 30 women out of 100 who are having their first babies will be transferred. About five women out of 100 who are having their second or subsequent babies will be transferred. Ideally, the midwife caring for you at the birth centre will go with you to the labour ward to settle you in and provide a handover of care. Once you have been transferred, your postnatal care will be on the postnatal ward. If you have any further questions, talk to your midwife or ring the birth centres.

What if I go into labour early?

At the birth centre, we see women who are typically 37 to 41 weeks and six days (41+6) pregnant. If you go into labour before 37 weeks, go to hospital and you will be directed to the labour ward, where a medical team including midwives and obstetricians will provide your care.