Deciding where to give birth

Planning your baby's birth is important. Your midwife and obstetrician (if you have one) will help you with this, and ensure you have all the information you need to make the right decisions for you and your family.

They will tell you what birth choices are available where you live and what you need to consider when deciding where to give birth.

Early choices

At the start of your pregnancy, you'll be asked to think about where you want to give birth.

For uncomplicated pregnancies, you should be offered the option of having your baby in a midwifery unit or at home.

Don’t worry if you're not sure:

  • the decision is left open
  • you can choose where to give birth when you feel ready
  • you can change your choice at any time

Some women decide to opt for a home birth near the end of pregnancy.

Where to give birth

Depending on where you live, you'll be offered choices and advice as to where you give birth.

You might be offered a:

  • birth in a midwifery unit (community or alongside) supported by midwives
  • home birth
  • birth in a hospital (Obstetric Unit) supported by midwives and doctors

Your midwife can help you with any questions you and your partner have and help you find more information.

Midwifery unit

Giving birth at a midwifery unit is as safe for most mums and babies as giving birth at an obstetric unit.

You're more likely to have a birth at a midwifery unit with fewer interventions.

For a few mums, complications may arise in labour and in those cases you'll be transferred to an obstetric unit.

Community midwifery unit (CMU)

A community midwifery unit (CMU) is sometimes called a free-standing midwifery unit. They aren't located near to or on the same site as a hospital obstetric unit.

Birth in a CMU can be a positive option for women who:

  • are healthy
  • are having a straightforward pregnancy
  • have no health conditions or previous pregnancy complications

CMUs do not have obstetricians on site, so if you or your baby need extra care during or after birth you would be transferred to a hospital by ambulance.

All efforts are made to make sure mums and babies are kept together.

Alongside midwifery unit (AMU)

An alongside midwifery unit (AMU) is a midwife-led unit located close to an obstetric unit on the same hospital site.

Midwives provide all the care in an AMU, and this kind of unit is usually for women expecting a normal labour and birth.

Because the unit is part of a hospital, doctors are nearby if you or your baby need extra care before or after the birth.

Your home

Planning for a home birth is a positive option for those women who :

  • are healthy
  • are having a straightforward pregnancy
  • have no health conditions
  • have no previous obstetric complications that might affect this pregnancy or birth

For women who have previously given birth and had a straightforward labour, planning for care away from the labour ward, either at home or in a birth centre, is as safe as a planned hospital birth and can often be a very positive experience.

Home birth if this is your first baby

Having a home birth for your first child offers advantages of a relaxed, familiar environment and means you're less likely to need interventions such as an epidural or assisted birth.

However, some risks increase slightly and you're more likely to need to transfer to an obstetric hospital during labour, or immediately after the birth. This can still be a positive experience and you'll be cared for all the way.

If home birth is your preferred choice, your midwife will discuss this option with you and provide all the information you need to make the right decision for both you and your baby.

Obstetric Unit (OU)

An obstetric unit (OU) is also called a consultant-led unit (CLU) or labour ward. They provide medical, obstetric, neonatal and anaesthetic care.

You'll be advised to give birth in an OU if you or your baby are likely to need care from an obstetrician or other health professionals before, during or after labour.

There may be more than one obstetric unit in your area.

Some women who don’t expect to have problems may still choose to give birth in these units.

Midwives care for you in labour and birth. Medical care is also available.

An epidural is only available in consultant-led units.

Island life

If you live on an island your midwife will talk to you about your options for where to give birth.

If you have risk factors or if there are complications during your pregnancy, your midwife may suggest you move to be closer to an obstetric unit on the mainland when you're 38 weeks pregnant.

You may decide to stay with family or friends, and your midwife can discuss other options with you.

Depending on where you live, transport and transfer options may be limited, and you and your midwife should discuss what's best for you.

Pain relief

You and your partner will be encouraged to think about what kind of support and pain relief you would like, and whether you or your baby are likely to need extra support.

Discuss your choices with your midwife, and your obstetrician if you have one, and record them in your birth plan.

The types of support and pain relief you choose will affect your decisions about where to give birth.

More about pain relief in labour

If your baby needs extra care

You may know before you give birth that your baby will need extra care when they’re born.

Your midwife or doctor will discuss with you the kind of support your baby might need and where that care is available. This may influence your choice of place of birth.

How your baby will be looked after if they need extra care


Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.