Women giving birth in a freestanding midwifery unit rather than a local hospital obstetric unit were more likely to report a good experience, according to researchers at City University London.
The study, published in the journal Midwifery, found women who went to the midwifery unit in labour were significantly more likely to experience one-to-one care and have the same midwife with them throughout.
“Those who used the birth centre reported positive views of feeling listened to, supported and cared for by the midwives”
They were also more likely to report staff were kind and understanding and treated them with respect and dignity.
The findings support draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence released earlier this month.
NICE said healthy women experiencing a straightforward pregnancy should be encouraged to give birth in a midwife-led unit rather than a traditional labour ward, and that a home birth could be as safe as hospital for low-risk pregnant women who have already had at least one child.
The study was led by Alison Macfarlane, professor of perinatal health, and Lucia Rocca-Ihenacho, a senior midwife at Barts Health Trust.
The team examined women’s choices and experiences of maternity care before and after the opening of the Barkantine Birth Centre, a freestanding midwifery unit on the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets.
Women were then interviewed by telephone by bilingual English and Sylheti/Bengali speaking interviewers in late pregnancy and about six weeks after birth.
The study involved 620 women, with 259 recruited before the birth centre opened and 361 after the opening.
Ms Rocha-Ihenacho said: “Women’s experiences varied considerably depending whether they gave birth at the birth centre or at the hospital, with staff attitudes and communication skills having a profound impact on their birth experiences.
“Those who used the birth centre reported positive views of feeling listened to, supported and cared for by the midwives,” she said. “In particular, they appreciated the home-like environment at the birth centre.”
She added: “In general, the negative experiences reported were linked to staff attitudes and lack of communication skills.”