According to new NHS advice, giving birth at home or in a midwife-led unit is safer than the labour ward for most women.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said that ‘home births and midwife-led centres were better for mothers and often safer for babies’. The guidelines, which only apply to women at low risk of complications, state that for the 45% of women at extremely low risk of complications, they may be better off giving birth at home or in a midwife-led unit than a labour ward. 

NICE’s clinical practice director, Professor Mark Baker, underlined that research ‘shows that a home birth is generally safer than hospital for pregnant women at low risk of complications who have given birth before’. Professor Baker said he hoped the recommendations would see ‘a shift away from hospitals’ but that women should be able to have their babies in the environment in which they felt most comfortable.

It seems the changes have been made because studies show that women who give birth under midwife-led care have less chance of being asked to undergo medical interventions such as episiotomies, caesareans and use of forceps or ventouse.

The BBC reports that out of the 700,000 babies born each year in England and Wales, nine out of ten are born in doctor-led obstetric units in hospital. 

This new guidance marks a significant shift from previous NHS advice. However, some are concerned about its implications and feel that the guidance could be dangerous because for some women it is not always safe to give birth outside hospital.