What are my options for giving birth?

You may be trying to decide whether to have a vaginal birth or a caesarean section (c-section). Speak to your midwife or doctor as soon as possible. They can give you the information and support you need to understand your birth options.

Can I choose what type of birth I want?

Yes, you can usually choose how and where you give birth.

The type of birth you have will depend on: 

Speak to your midwife as early as you can about your options. They can explain the benefits and risks of vaginal and c-section births. 

If you or your baby have any illnesses or complications, your midwife or doctor may offer you:

They will explain the advantages and disadvantages of both options. 

You have the right to take part in discussions with your doctor or midwife to help you make informed decisions about your care. Doctors cannot give you treatment you do not want unless you’re not able to give consent (permission), for example in an emergency.

Birthrights has more information about your rights during pregnancy and birth.

I want a vaginal birth but need a more specific plan

Speak to your midwife as soon as you can if you want a vaginal birth but you’re feeling anxious or worried. You may be worried that you won’t be able to cope or you may have had a difficult birth before. Your midwife will offer you support throughout your pregnancy and help you plan the birth.

Past trauma

Your past experiences may affect how you choose to give birth. For example, you may be worried about having a vaginal birth if you have a fear of childbirth or you have experienced sexual abuse.   

Try to speak to your midwife or doctor early on in your pregnancy about your concerns. It’s up to you how much you tell them about your past experiences. 

They will help you plan what you would and would not like to happen during labour and the birth. For example, you may want to avoid vaginal examinations or you may want to visit the delivery room in advance.  
Your midwife or doctor may refer you to a health professional who specialises in mental health. The specialist can offer you emotional support. Recording your wishes in a birth plan may help to reassure you about the birth.

Read more about past experience of trauma.

Can I have a c-section if I don’t have a medical reason?

A c-section is major abdominal surgery, which carries some risks for you and your baby. Speak to your midwife about any worries you have about giving birth. They may be able to reassure you or refer you for more support. You can ask your midwife to refer you to another health professional, such as: 

  • an obstetrician ‒ a doctor who specialises in care during pregnancy, labour and after birth
  • an anaesthetist ‒ a doctor who gives pain relief and anaesthetic for medical operations and procedures
  • a consultant midwife
  • a birth planning midwife
  • a specialist mental health midwife.

Your midwife or doctor can tell you what a c-section involves and how it may affect you after the birth and in future pregnancies. Find out more about the benefits and risks of a c-section.

You can choose to have a c-section, after talking to your healthcare team about the benefits and risks. If you feel your obstetrician does not support your choice of birth, you can ask to see a different doctor.

Some hospitals cannot get funding for c-sections without a medical need. If this happens, you can ask to move to a hospital in a different area.

“‘I asked for a c-section because I had a difficult first birth followed by postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress. The team looking after me reassured me throughout my pregnancy but reminded me of my other birth options. They helped with my birth plan, which included different options, including a planned c section, trying a vaginal birth and what would happen if I went into labour early. Having this reassurance reduced my anxiety and helped me feel confident about what I wanted for the birth.”

The BRAIN acronym

Using the BRAIN acronym can be helpful when you're making decisions about your care. 

BRAIN acronym to explain benefits, risks, alternatives, instinct and nothing
  1. NICE (2021). Caesarean birth: NICE guideline 192. National Institute for health and care excellence www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng192   
  2. NICE (2014, updated 2017). Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies: Clinical guideline 190. National Institute for health and care excellence www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190
  3. NICE. Your care (accessed May 2021) www.nice.org.uk/about/nice-communities/nice-and-the-public/public-involvement/making-decisions-about-your-care/your-care 
  4. Pregnancy, Birth and Parenthood after Childhood Sexual Abuse (accessed 2021) https://rise.articulate.com/share/8Oo2-UGd5Jc5AyjV6rs5iyc4cf5tF88S#/
  5. Schei B et al (2014). A history of abuse and operative delivery--results from a European multi-country cohort study. PLoS One. 2014; 9(1): e87579.
  6. Yuill C et al (2020).  Women’s experiences of decision-making and informed choice about pregnancy and birth care: a systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative research. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2020; 20: 3
Review dates
Reviewed: 16 July 2021
Next review: 16 July 2024