You can choose which hospital you would like your baby to be born at, so go and visit all the local maternity units. You can also choose how you would like to be cared for.
There is strong evidence to show that moving around in early labour and remaining upright progresses labour; feeling confident and relaxed also has a positive effect.
So useful questions to ask are:
• Can I move around during labour, or do I have to stay on the bed?
• Do you monitor the baby's heartbeat continuously, or intermittently during labour? Do you use fetal scalp electrodes regularly? (the kind of monitor that clips onto your baby's head).
• Will you break my waters at a certain stage in labour?
• Is it all right for me to eat and drink as I please during labour, or will I be allowed only water?
• Can I wear my own clothes for labour?
• How many people can I bring with me to support me during labour?
• Have you got a birthing pool and midwives experienced at waterbirths?
• Do you have a 24-hour epidural service, or are epidurals only available in office hours?
• Can I give birth in any position I choose?
• Will there be student doctors or midwives present at my birth?
• What is your induction/caesarean section/forceps/ventouse rate? How does this compare with other local hospitals?
• How long will I stay in hospital after the birth?
• What are visiting hours? Can my partner visit me outside these hours?
• How many women are breastfeeding when they leave the hospital?
Make an appointment to visit the Delivery Suite and see the rooms there. Ask yourself whether this is the place you would like your baby to be born? See if there is a bean bag and birthing ball in each room, and whether there are comfy chairs. Decide whether the rooms are designed for the benefit of midwives, or for labouring women. The answer to these and the questions outlined above will give you a good idea of how woman-centred the hospital is.
'I chose a hospital birth because it's nice to be with other women on the postnatal ward.' (Celine, aged 29, Luton)
'We had three different midwives during the labour because the shift kept changing, but they were all really nice.' (Monika, aged 33, Darlington)