Mother and Baby

Everything you need to know about having a home birth

Section: Labour & Birth
home birth

There are typically three questions that everyone will ask once you’ve announced that you’re pregnant: when are you due? Do you know what you’re having? and where are you having it?

On this last point, you will quickly discover, everyone has their own opinion which they’re sure you need to hear but, as the place where you choose to birth can affect how you feel during labour, which in turn can have a big impact on how labour evolves, the choice really should be yours to make.

In this article:

Giving birth at home

Despite what friends might tell you, midwives will reassure you that, if you are “low risk”, then a home birth really is a safe choice for you to consider and can bring real benefits.

Some women find hospitals scary - after all, we associate them with illness and tragedy rather than happiness and health. Fear can increase adrenaline which can slow labour down. Birth at home can often progress more smoothly because women are more relaxed.

Being at home can mean less disruption to the flow of labour, more freedom to move about, sleep, eat and focus and even reduces those little worries like who will walk the dog or feed the cat!

labour at home

Is a home birth safe for my first baby?

Low-risk women planning a home birth with their first baby are statistically less likely to end up needing interventions such as forceps, ventouse or a Caesarean section than those planning to birth in an obstetric unit. This might be because, as well as keeping adrenaline lower, having one to one care from a midwife throughout your labour is more likely than in a busy labour ward.

However, first-time mums are more likely to need transfer into hospital during labour but, because labour will have started naturally and interventions and drug- use will have been minimal at home, you might find the hours spent in hospital more manageable.

new mum

Babies of first-time mums planning a home birth are more likely to have a poor outcome (9 per 1000 as opposed to 5 per 1000 for babies born in an obstetric unit, alongside midwifery unit or freestanding midwifery unit) so you need to weigh this up alongside the benefits for you, and your emotional feelings about hospital versus home.

Ultimately in the UK, birth is generally very safe for low-risk women wherever they plan to have their baby, so make sure that you chat to your midwife about all available options and then choose the one that feels right for you.

Real mums: 'Why I chose a home birth'

How to organise the perfect home birth

Let your midwife know it's what you want

Ideally, you should decide well before week 36 so your midwife can make the appropriate preparations. ‘They will leave equipment such as gas and air at your home well before you’re likely to go into labour,’ says Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at the NCT. ‘They’ll take care of all the practicals, so you don’t need to worry about any of that.’

talking to midwife

Get in touch with any local home birth support groups

This way you can meet other women planning to have their babies at home and learn useful tips. Your midwife will be able to give you details of these; the NCT also runs groups in some areas.

Stock up on everything you need in advance

‘Think about food snacks and drinks you’ll want, things to tie your hair back with, anything you want for pain relief, such as a TENS machines, a hot water bottle in case you get shivery towards the end of your labour, and something to wrap the baby in,’ says Elizabeth. 

Don’t forget a bottle of bubbly to toast the new arrival!

Create the right atmosphere

It doesn’t matter if your living room is messy or needs decorating – what’s important is that you feel comfortable in it. Putting candles around and creating a playlist of your favourite music can help you feel more relaxed. 

aromatherapy essential oils

Put everything you need in one place as the time approaches

This should include your birth plan, your TENS machine and massage oils, and make sure you know where other essentials are, from food you might want to your phone charger. Trust us: hunting down your iPod is the last thing you’ll want to be doing during labour.

Prepare for a change of plan

About one-third of women who have home births end up going to hospital, usually for an epidural or because of failure to progress. 

‘So have a hospital bag packed in case this happens to you – you won’t want to be scrabbling around for things you need at the last minute,’ says Elizabeth. ‘And if you have children already, have friends and relatives on standby to look after them in case you and your partner have to go to hospital.’

12 essentials you need if you're planning a home birth

Jane Munro from the Royal College of Midwives suggests the key items to help you have a good birth experience.

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1) The phone numbers of your midwives

Keep in contact with them, letting them know when you think you’ve gone into labour and when you think your midwife may need to come round.
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2) Phone numbers for childcare

If you’ve already got young children, make sure you’ve organised for someone to look after them as you don’t want to have to worry about what your toddler is up to when you’re in the middle of a contraction.

Plus, your toddler may get upset seeing you in pain. But if you do want your children to be around during the birth, make sure there is someone there to supervise them.

Read more: 10 rules for introducing your toddler to your new baby
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3) Music, essential oils and pillows

Creating a soothing environment can keep you calm while you’re labouring. Cushions or pillows will provide somewhere for you to lean on or against, you can burn essential oils to create a relaxing atmosphere, and don’t forget to create a labour playlist with songs that can keep you positive and motivated.

Read more: ​How to make the best birthing playlist ever (plus over 60 song ideas!)
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4) Protective coverings

Get some plastic sheeting to cover your floor, furniture and the bed. Although labour isn’t that messy, it’s safer to have everywhere covered so you can give birth wherever is comfiest.
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5) Towels, blankets, and flannels

Lay old towels and blankets over the top of the plastic sheeting so it’s soft and comfortable to lie and kneel on. The flannels can be dampened and draped across your forehead to act as a cooling compress during labour.
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6) Drinks and snacks

Keep your energy levels up by having plenty of food and drink available – and not just for you. Handy snacks that your birth partner can also share will help keep both of you going.
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7) Maternity pads

After you give birth, you’ll continue to bleed heavily for the first few days – this is known as lochia. Make sure you get proper post-birth maternity pads as they tend to be longer and softer. You may need to change the pads every few hours.
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8) Pain relief

Giving birth at home means your choice of pain relief is limited to paracetamol, TENS machine, a birthing pool (if you’ve organised for one) and gas and air (Entonox) if your midwife has brought a canister of it with her. You could also use a hot water bottle to ease lower back pain.
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9) Birth ball

An inflatable birth ball is useful for helping you get into different positions, and gently bouncing on it can help to open up your pelvis and encourage your baby to move down into the birth canal.
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10) Birth pool

While not essential, if you want a home water birth, you’ll need to hire a birthing pool. Make sure you do a trial run so you know how long it takes to fill up and how to get it to the right temperature. You need to keep the temperature of the water at or below 37ºC at all times (35-37º is optimum during the first stage of labour and 37-37.5º during the second).
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11) Hospital bag

Pack a bag just in case you need to transfer to hospital. It should contain - among other things - sanitary pads, a change of clothes, baby clothes and nappies.

Read more: ​The best baby clothes for newborns 
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12) Tea and biscuits for the midwives

Have some refreshments ready for your midwives as they could be with you for a while. With any luck, they’ll make you a cup of tea after the birth while you cuddle your baby in bed.

Home birth: what will actually happen

You can choose where you give birth

As long as it’s clean and there’s room for a midwife, you can have your baby in the garden shed! If you want a birthing pool, order it a month in advance of your due date and it will be delivered at 38 weeks.

Everything you need is delivered in advance

Your midwife brings a birth pack at 37 weeks with everything from waste bags to medication and drips. You just need to stock up on teabags!

Two midwives attend

One midwife will join you when you near full labour. She’s likely to be the one you’ve seen antenatally. A second will assist with the delivery.

The mess is contained

Your midwife puts down a waterproof sheet and absorbent pads for the placenta and fluids.

woman in labour at home

Drugs are on hand

You can have gas and air, and pethidine. If you need help to deliver the placenta, you can have an injection. Your midwife can also give your baby the vitamin K injection, if you wish. 

You can change your mind if you want

If you want to go to hospital at any point, you can, unless you’re in a late stage of labour.

Help is at hand

If labour is not going to plan, your midwife will discuss with you about whether it is best to transfer you to hospital. Monitoring equipment is used to keep an eye on your baby, so any signs of distress will be picked up. If your baby needs help breathing at birth, the midwife will have the same resuscitation equipment used in hospital.

Someone else clears up afterwards 

Your midwife will take away the post-birth mess in waste bags.

Home birth tips

Baby and child nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed shared her adorable home birth story over on her Instagram account.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

🤰🏼🏡MY HOMEBIRTH 🤰🏼🏡 Lots of you wrote to me after I said I had had a homebirth asking for info & asking me to share my experience - so here goes 📚I didn’t expect to have a homebirth at all, especially due to covid, but I was told that they had started offering them again in my area when I was around 36 weeks pregnant, so booked an appointment with the team “just incase” - which simply meant I would have a choice on the day - to go to hospital or stay at home 🤰🏼It took me a while to work out if the contractions were legit, so I timed them using an app & once they started to get more consistent & more painful, I retreated to my room & called my husband to come home 🧘‍♀️I was pretty chilled & wanted to attempt to use the hypnobirthing skills I’d learnt, so I set up my bedroom to make it as relaxing as I could, by: ✅Plugging in a lavender diffuser candle ✅Shutting the curtains & blinds to make it dark ✅ Playing my relaxing bath time music playlist ✅ Getting copious amounts of snacks & water to top up my energy before the hard core contractions started 🧼I was genuinely super relaxed & used hypnobirthing breathing techniques & visualisations to really control the contraction pains 😖Focusing on the breathing was harder as the really BIG contractions kicked in though, but when I did focus, it helped massively! ⏰I desperately didn’t want to leave my “safe environment” at this stage, so we called the midwife to come to our home & check me out when contractions were 5mins apart 🏃🏽‍♀️It all happened pretty quickly from there - it wasn’t pain free in the slightest - but it was more of a comfortable, calm experience than my birth with Raffy! 🙌🏼Massive shout out to the AMAZING midwives I had that day & to @birth_ed for her course & the visualisations of what EXACTLY is happening in the body at each stage. I used that a lot! 😘Also @the.birthcollective who talked about “triggers” to help you relax & @theyesmummum whose book talks in detail about breathing techniques for each stage of labour - all made a HUGE difference & helped me have a more comfortable birth in my own home! ❓Did you try hypnobirthing or a homebirth? What was your labour experience? #labour #homebirth

A post shared by Charlotte Stirling-Reed (@sr_nutrition) on

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Having worked across a variety of magazines, on topics from food to travel to horses, Stephanie now works as a Digital Writer for Mother&Baby online. 

She loves taking her lurcher puppy Moss for long walks in the country, and spending time with her niece and two nephews. In her spare time she writes fiction books and enjoys baking (her signature bake is lemon drizzle cake).

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