There are two sorts of Midwifery Led Unit (MLU)- ‘attached’ where it is in the grounds of a hospital (often next to a labour ward) or ‘freestanding’ where it is completely separate to a hospital (and transfer to a labour ward would require an ambulance in the same way as a home birth). The Birth Place Study (2011) showed that for a low risk, first time mum, a Birth Centre was the safest place to give birth, and for subsequent births also a very safe choice (narrowly beaten by home itself!). Many women find a Midwifery Led Unit a ‘happy medium’ of home and hospital.
As the name suggests, there aren’t any doctors on a MLU. As the ‘guardians of normal birth’, midwives facilitate and support all birth on a birth centre. They are generally a more ‘home from home’ environment and set up to enable women to remain active, relaxed and support the hormonal processes of labour (dimmed lights, aromatherapy, pools, balls, stools etc!)
For all low risk women, research has shown no difference in safety for the baby between women planning to give birth in a hospital labour ward and those planning to give birth in a birth centre, (both attached or freestanding), but giving birth on a birth centre came with a much higher rate of ‘normal’ birth (*’Normal birth’: without induction, epidural or spinal, general anaesthetic, caesarean, forceps, ventouse or episiotomy.)
On a birth centre you will have access to gas and air, pethedine/diamorphine, water, TENS (if you provide your own) and any complementary therapies you choose to use, massage, hypnobirthing, essential oils etc.
Birthplace in England Collaborative Group, Perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth for healthy women with low risk pregnancies: the Birthplace in England national prospective cohort study, BMJ 2011;343:d7400 (2011)
Birthplace in England Collaborative Group, Perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth for healthy women with low risk pregnancies: the Birthplace in England national prospective cohort study – Appendices, Data supplement to BMJ 2011;343:d7400 (2011)