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A guide to pregnancy and giving birth in the UK

PUBLISHED: 25 July 2019 | LAST UPDATED: 27 September 2023

Private vs public 
We’ve looked at some of the benefits and pitfalls of the public and private health systems in the UK when it comes to pregnancy, to help you make that all important decision. 

You’ll have the choice between having your baby through the private or the public health system, but, what’s the difference? Really, it comes down to the level of personalised care and the treatment you’d like throughout your pregnancy and birth, and how much you want to spend. It’s worth noting that both the public and private services in the UK are world-class, so whichever you choose, you should be in safe hands. 

The UK has a public health system called the National Health Service (NHS), which provides free treatment for UK nationals and those who are ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK. Those who are from countries with healthcare agreements with the UK are also able to benefit from free NHS care. Private care is available, and most private maternity services are in London and South East of England. 

When you find out you’re expecting, the first point of call is to visit a General Practitioner (GP). You can register with a GP at your local doctor’s surgery. In some cases, this visit may be free of charge - make sure you check what you’re entitled to carefully. The GP will confirm your pregnancy and refer you on to see a community midwife. They’ll also take care of any scans and tests that you need. Midwives are available through the NHS or privately and can be found through the clinics, or through your own research. 

The facilities in the public hospitals are to a high standard. When you go into labour and your baby is ready to be delivered, you’ll be taken straight to the delivery room in the hospital. When your baby arrives, you’ll then be moved to a post-natal ward where midwives will tend to a number of new mums and babies, until you’re ready to go home. The facilities in private hospitals are generally more comfortable, with more luxury and privacy. You’ll have your own private room and a dedicated midwife and obstetrician (OB) to give you one on one care and support. 

If you opt for a private hospital, you’ll most likely be asked to pay a deposit to reserve your booking with them. Your hospital should be able to advise you about this cost. 

Pre-natal care 
Through the NHS, you’ll usually have around 7-10 appointments with your midwife and two ultrasound scans. If you choose to see a midwife privately, you can pay to have extra appointments with more personalised care, additional advanced scans, and tests throughout your pregnancy. If there are any complications, you may be referred to see a consultant so that they can keep a closer eye on you. 

Some women opt to use a combination of the systems, hiring private midwives and booking private scans and tests, but using the NHS hospitals and specialists for the birth. By going privately, there are more options and services available when it comes to antenatal care. You’ll be able to opt for more tests and scans if you’d like them, some of which aren’t offered through the NHS, such as 3D and 4D ultrasounds. These costs are usually charged in addition to your hospital and doctor fees. The cost of an ultrasound starts at around £1001. The NHS services are fairly standard, offering routine scans, check ups and blood tests. The private services, however, allow you to personalise your care and ensure that you’re in more control of getting the pregnancy and birth you’d like. 

Whichever you decide to use, your midwife will talk you through any concerns you might have and create a personalised birth plan, so you know what to expect and can make the most of the options available to you. 

If your GP refers you on through the NHS services, you’ll be booked in with a local community midwife who’ll be your one on one source of support over the course of your pregnancy. They’ll be able to talk you through what to expect and answer any questions you might have. They’ll ask about your medical history and any previous births to make sure that everything is in place that needs to be. They offer emotional support for any worries you have, whether it’s relationship, financial or family concerns on your mind, they’ll be there to listen. 

There are also midwives based in the hospitals who offer a 24/7 triage phone line, so if anything doesn’t feel quite right, or your waters break, you can give them a call day or night and they’ll guide you through what to do. You’ll be given the details of this phone line from your community midwife.

Your delivery 
Most of the maternity clinics and hospitals are NHS led in the UK, but some have private wings where patients can book their own rooms whilst receiving their care on the NHS. If there’s one available, a private room costs up to £4502 a night.

The costs for a private birth are usually billed as packages and can vary in cost anything upwards of £50003. These packages don’t usually include the costs of midwives, obstetricians or the cost of any additional medical treatment. In some cases, obstetrician fees can be just as much as the delivery itself, so beware that costs could start piling up.

There are lots of options available when it comes to deliveries in the UK. Both NHS and private hospitals are very accommodating and offer lots of choice of how you’d like to deliver your baby. You can choose from options such as water birth, home birth, and hypnobirthing, and keep in control of the level of medical intervention and assistance you receive when in labour.

If you use a private midwife, but are planning to have your baby in an NHS hospital, it’s possible that they’ll only be able to accompany you as a birthing partner, rather than to deliver your baby. You should be able to check with the hospital if you’re not sure what their policy is. 

Depending on when and how your baby arrives, you might need to stay in hospital overnight. Some hospitals allow your birthing partner to stay with you if you have your own room. Your hospital should be able to tell you what their policy is and what you need to do. 

Pregnancy and parenthood - cultural traditions in the UK 
Once you’ve had your baby and the hospital has confirmed that you and your baby are ready, you’ll be able to settle into your new routine at home and recover. You’ll have a couple of visits from your midwife and a health visitor, to make sure that everything is okay and offer you any support should you need it. 

There are lots of community parenting groups and you’ll probably have made some new friends through ante-natal pregnancy and birthing classes. You’ll be able to meet others who’ve had babies at similar times to you, which can be really helpful.

In the UK, it’s common for new mums to have baby showers thrown for them before baby arrives to celebrate the pregnancy. A traditional baby shower is organised by female friends and family members and is a party filled with baby and pregnancy related games, and the mum is given gifts for when baby arrives. 

Breastfeeding has become less of a taboo in recent years in the UK and more women now breastfeed in public places. There are, however, more discreet areas where you’ll have more privacy if you’d prefer.  

Finding the support you need

If you’re new to parenting and to the neighbourhood, it can be overwhelming if you don’t have your support network around. There are a number of mums’ groups that you can join where you’ll be able to connect with other new parents – as both locals and expats. You’ll be able to find out more about these groups and how to join them by asking your doctor or OB, and by doing some online research. 

Our World of Wellbeing hub contains lots of useful tips and information about being a parent abroad. Whether you’re about to have your first baby, or you’re moving your whole family to a new country, there’s plenty of advice about how to help things go smoothly. 

And if you’re ever unsure of anything, no matter where you are, we’ll always do our best to put you at ease. There’s a team of midwives on hand through our health information helpline who’ll be able to answer any questions you might have about your pregnancy. You’ll just need to call +44 (0)1892 556 753 between 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, until 4pm on Saturday and until 12pm on Sunday (UK time).

If you have any questions about making a claim with us or what your policy covers, you can call us anytime, day or night on +44(0) 1892 503 856.

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.