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What's the difference between a birth centre and labour ward?

As a Pregnancy Yoga & Hypnobirthing teacher based in the Salisbury area I am incredibly excited about the opening of the new Beatrice Birth Centre in Salisbury. Up until now our only options have been either been giving birth on labour ward at Salisbury Maternity Unit or having a home birth. Many first time Mums who come along to my classes are attracted (as I was) to the idea of a homebirth but don’t have quite enough trust in their body and lots of fear of the unknown. If you’d like the homely, laid-back experience of being at home but with the security net of being just up the corridor from labour ward then a birth centre is the perfect choice for you.

The most common question I get asked when talking about the new Beatrice Birth Centre (which I do A LOT) is "it might sound silly but what is a birth centre" or "what is the difference between a birth centre and labour ward"

Birth centres are Midwife led units for healthy women with straight forward pregnancies; they provide a home from home environment, are far less clinical (there’s no scary medical equipment lying around) and they provide a real oxytocin inducing vibe. Research shows that “women were more likely to have a normal birth, with fewer interventions in planned home births and midwifery-led services. A woman’s chances of an emergency caesarean surgery, for example, were approximately halved in first-time mothers planning to give birth in non-hospital settings, and even more substantially reduced for women having a second or subsequent baby.”

Labour wards/delivery suites are clinical hospital wards, they’re technically run by Doctors (although most people don’t tend to see them!) you have full access to whatever pain relief you might want or need and all of the equipment to keep you and baby safe.

The new Beatrice Birth Centre at Salisbury is an along-side birth centre which means it’s attached to the hospital, so if you feel as though you need additional pain relief (you can use gas & air at the birth centre) or if the Midwives feel you need some additional support from a Doctor you can be wheeled down to labour ward in a matter of minutes.

Birth centres are staffed by Midwives who love and promote normal physiological birth through movement & mobilisation, breathing and aromatherapy. These of course are things you’ll already be familiar with through your pregnancy yoga or hypnobirthing practise. Birth centres tend not to have traditional hospital beds (or no beds at all) instead opting for a birthing couch which you can put together in many ways; as a full-length couch with cut-away section, folded over and used to support standing labour, or even as a sofa. It also doubles up as a comfy queen size bed for resting once baby is here.

The Beatrice Birth centre houses two identical birth rooms. Each room has a good sized birth pool and a birthing couch, they come equipped with a birth ball, a birthing bean bag and plenty of space to keep active. My favourite part has to be the bathroom/wetroom which is huge and ideal for active birth/birth ball work whilst using the shower for pain relief on your back, dreamy!

The lighting throughout the birth centre is much more toned down than the bright clinical lights we’re used to seeing in hospital and on labour ward. Our hormones work loads better with dim lighting, melatonin is a hormone which helps create oxytocin bright light inhibit its production. Melatonin loves red toned lighting and there are clever panels in the ceiling and a remote control where you can choose a colour hue for the room. To keep the room as dark as possible there are really thick black-out blinds that work so well you probably won’t be able to tell what time of day it is!

Each room also comes equipped with a clever screen which you can use to play music on and even view photos or virtual affirmation cards on. Bring your fairy lights, your battery-operated candles, your affirmation cards and your favourite aromatherapy scents for a full womb-like oxytocin inducing vibe!

If you’re hoping to have a vaginal birth using Hypnobirthing and gas & air for pain relief it’s much more likely to happen if you’re birthing in a birth centre (or at home) because birth works best where we feel safest. Oxytocin is the hormone which causes our uterus to contract, the more efficient out uterus is, easier birth goes and this all depends on how much oxytocin we’re producing. Oxytocin sits on a seesaw with our stress hormones cortisol & adrenaline, so if our body senses us feeling scared or anxious it will trigger the production of these stress hormones to help deal with whatever the problem is causing us to feel this way (in this instance the “problem” is birth) blocking out the production of oxytocin. When our birth environment is calm and relaxing and our birth team are calm and reassuring and we’re feeling safe and looked after birth will work better.

There’s currently quite a tight criteria when it comes to who can birth at the birth centre, because the team at Salisbury maternity want to ensure they’re getting it right. Speak to your Midwife if you’d like to find out more about whether it’s for you or not! You may find that even though you’re not able to use the birth centre at the moment a homebirth is still available to you. Please do get in touch with me if you need some help deciding on where is the best place for you to birth or a confidence boost if you’d like a homebirth.

Keep your eyes peeled for a blog on how to make the most of a birth on labour ward!


Sandall J. Birthplace in England research-implications of new evidence. J Perinat Educ. 2013 Spring;22(2):77-82. doi: 10.1891/1058-1243.22.2.77. PMID: 24421600; PMCID: PMC3647739.

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