The Lewisham Birth Centre at Lewisham Hospital – a Doula’s viewpoint

If you are pregnant and live in one of the South East London areas such as Lewisham, Greenwich, Catford, Blackheath, Mottingham, Hither Green and New Cross you may be considering birthing your baby at the Lewisham Birth Centre. This is an option for women who have had straightforward pregnancies and are expected to be able to birth their babies without medical intervention. It’s a really good idea to look at the Which? Birth Choices guide to where to have your baby, and do a tour yourself, but to give you another point of view, this is the second in my series of reviews of birth locations in South East London from a doula’s viewpoint.

The Birth Centre opened in 2010 and offers tours on Thursdays at 10am and 1pm. I attended the 1pm session and there were 4 pregnant women, two of whom had brought their partners. Parking on the hospital site is limited and rather expensive so I parked in a side street with a RingGo meter. When women arrive in labour, their partners are advised to find the drop-off area via Albacore Crescent (they prefer you to move your car away once the mother is installed in the Birth Centre, but if birth is imminent it’s not obligatory – I’d recommend leaving a note though!!) The Birth Centre is on the ground floor of the Pink Zone of the hospital, to the Catford side and slightly to the back. The signage is clear and I found it fairly easily. After being buzzed in we waited in the birth centre reception to be met by the midwife; interestingly, it was made very clear that this was not a waiting area for labouring women, who should only arrive when in active labour and go straight through after calling ahead, or for interested relatives, who should wait for news at home! I like the idea of protecting the birth ‘bubble’ in that way…

The midwife, Tracy, was very efficient, but warm and welcoming. She asked everyone how far along they were and with which number pregnancy (so I had to reveal myself as an interested observer from the outset!). We were taken through to one of the non-pool rooms; there are 2 rooms without pools (but which have a full size bath with plumbed in gas and air (Entonox) in the en-suite and a Swiss birthing chair) and 3 rooms with a birthing pool (these have a shower in the en-suite). The room arrangement is very similar to that at the Greenwich Birth Centre, which I reviewed previously (see review here). This is no surprise as the Lewisham Birth Centre was opened in 2010 and the Greenwich Birth Centre in 2015 following the same model, both in design and ethos. Both the non-pool room and the pool room, which we were shown subsequently, have a source of soft natural light and warm, calming wall colours. The rooms are equipped with a double bed, TV and sound system and plumbed in Entonox. Medical equipment such as the resusitaire is hidden away in a ‘fitted wardrobe’ and there is a cupboard where birth balls, mats etc. are stored. All-in-all they have cleverly achieved the brief of creating a home-from-home environment.

One of the 'non-pool' rooms

During the tour Tracy discussed with the pregnant women and their partners the practicalities of using the Birth Centre: when to come in (for first timers or third timers!), where to park and what will happen on arrival. She offered advice on how to move labour along and to help the baby to move into the optimum position. It was like a mini antenatal class! She gave some good suggestions about how to stay comfortable and relaxed at home in order to be able to stay there until labour is well established. As a doula, I could see how I might be able to help from the very first twinges before accompanying the couple to the Birth centre if that were the venue they had chosen. As well as tips for the mother-to-be Tracy offered, with a twinkle in her eye, some tips for the partners: the importance of them staying fed and hydrated and wearing light layers to cope with the inevitable changes in temperature necessary to keep a labouring woman comfortable. She even suggested that they, and not the woman, pack the hospital bag so that they know where the essential items are located at short notice!

One of the 'pool' rooms

Over all, it felt like a safe, positive and woman-centred location to birth ones baby. I chose to birth my younger two babies at home because I didn’t want to come to a Labour Ward which I perceived to be a colder, more clinical environment (at the time the Lewisham Birth Centre was open, but we don’t live in the borough, and the Greenwich Birth Centre had yet to open). Home birth was an option for me as I was fortunate enough to have had uncomplicated pregnancies. The Birth Centre offers an experience that is close to a home birth, but with the reassurance that the Labour Ward is nearby and rapidly accessible if necessary. I can understand why, when doing the tour as a pregnant mother of a much tried-for first baby, one of my friends said it was so lovely and home-like that she cried. If such a facility had been available when I was looking for a location to birth my babies I definitely would have chosen it for my second baby who was born ten years after my first. I am so happy that centres such as this, where supporting women to have a physiological birth is a priority, exist now. I look forward to supporting many births there.

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