MOTHERS-to-be are to be encouraged to stay away from hospital in an effort to more than double the number of home births in the Lothians.
Pregnant women living furthest from the ERI and St John's in Livingston will be urged to consider giving birth in their own homes.
It is thought that avoiding long trips to and from the maternity units – including the sometimes hectic dash to "get there on time" – will make the experience of giving birth more relaxed for many women.
The health board also hopes to ease the pressure on the hospitals caused by the growing number of births.
There has been a gradual increase in the popularity of home births in recent years, with 150 taking place last year – two per cent of births – compared to 112 in 1995.
Health chiefs hope to see that number rise to closer to 400 in the coming years, or five per cent of all births.
Medics are to encourage women who live outside the city and have a low risk of any complications to consider staying at home.
A maternity services management team dedicated to arranging support for home births already exists.
Gillian Smith, director of the Royal College of Midwives in Scotland, said: "The number of women who have home births in the Lothians is already much higher than the Scottish average, and it shows that NHS Lothian already does really well in showing women that they have a choice.
"To get that up to five per cent would be really something, and it's all about letting women know that they have the option if they want to."
The move is part of NHS Lothian's Maternity Services Strategy for the next five years, which is largely geared to dealing with the number of births going up further from the current 10,000 a year.
A new unit is planned for the ERI, which would be led by midwives, while the maternity facilities at St John's will also be expanded.
That is not only to deal with an increase in births, but also an increase in complications, due to the average mother-to-be getting older and heavier.
Around a quarter of women who give birth are over 35.
'I'd recommend it to anyone'
WHEN Mark Ballard and his wife Heather were expecting a child, the decision of a home birth came easily.
The former MSP and rector of Edinburgh University lives in the north of the city, and along with his wife decided a trip to the ERI would be too much – especially considering they didn't have a car.
Adam was born in February 2006 and the couple wouldn't swap the home birth for anything else.
Mr Ballard, 37, said: "I would recommend it to anyone. The midwives assured us at the slightest sign of any problems an ambulance would be straight there.
It was much easier at home, where we were settled and comfortable, rather than travelling right across town and back."