Protecting human rights in childbirth

Registered Charity Number 1151152

Birthrights’ statement on unassisted birth 

Birthrights is aware of a growing national interest in a potential increase in women and birthing people choosing to have unassisted births. Unassisted birth is sometimes called ‘free birth’. It means deciding to give birth at home or somewhere else without the help of a healthcare professional such as a midwife.  

The decision to have an unassisted birth is completely lawful.  

Focusing conversations simply on informing people of the risk of unassisted birth, without also considering what might be behind such a decision, misses the opportunity to facilitate informed decision-making and create a relationship of trust, regardless of the healthcare system’s view of that person’s choice. 

We hear from women and birthing people opting for unassisted birth that the factors behind these decisions often relate to suspension of local home birth services, concerns about consent not being upheld and feelings of being coerced into medical interventions, and previous traumatic birth experiences.

Some people are choosing unassisted birth because they are terrified of entering the maternity system. This should be a wake-up call to the systemic issues with maternity provision. 

A number of people are contacting us because health care professionals (HCPs) have referred them to social services or reported them to the police for lawful decisions they have made about their bodies and maternity care, and we hear from HCPs that this is due to local hospital policies. Unassisted birth on its own should not prompt any referrals to police or social services, nor a restriction of medical assistance if it becomes needed.  

It is a critical that the rights of women and birthing people are upheld throughout their pregnancy and birth. A maternity service that understands and protects the rights of women and birthing people during pregnancy and birth is essential to reducing trauma and providing safe care.  Rights-respecting care cannot be delivered without sufficient and meaningful investment in maternity services, which should include investment in understanding the importance of upholding the law and why this is critical to safe care. 

Read Birthrights’ Unassisted Birth factsheet