HEALTHY women experiencing a “straightforward pregnancy” should be encouraged to give birth at home or in a midwife-led unit rather than a traditional labour ward, according to NHS watchdogs.

The draft guidelines from NICE — the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence — have been backed by Bolton midwifery bosses.

The report says a home birth may be just as safe as one in a ward for low-risk pregnancies.

The watchdog currently urges caution if a home birth or delivery in a midwife-led unit is planned. It says women who give birth in a midwife-led unit often have a more “positive” experience. The birth suite at the Royal Bolton Hospital is midwife-led but the rest of the maternity unit is made up of obstetric wards led by doctors.

Mums-to-be in Bolton have the option to give birth at home if they are of “low risk” with the help of community midwifes from the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust.

Sue Anderton, head of midwifery at the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, said it was important for pregnant women to be informed of all the birth options.

Ms Anderton said: “A midwife-led unit is suited to women who are classed as low risk.

“Women with a low risk pregnancy should be encouraged to give birth in a midwife-led unit as they often have a more positive birth experience because it is like home from home.

“That isn’t to say however that women attending an obstetric ward have a lesser experience. The important factor is that women are fully informed and have the conversation with midwives during the antenatal period to ensure they know the choice is right for them.”

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists supports the recommendations as long as issues around emergency back-up options and the assessment of pregnancy risk are ironed out.

The Royal College of Midwives said more investment in midwifery would be needed to implement the changes.

RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said: “There has to be more investment in midwife-led care, in midwife-led units and in home births. Additionally, we need to ensure that midwives being trained get jobs when they qualify so that we have the right number of midwives to deliver these services.

“It is then that a choice that exists in theory will become a choice that exists in reality for all women.”