MOTHERS-TO-BE in the Lothians will be able to give birth in more spacious "homely" surroundings, as designs for a new birthing centre have been revealed.
The midwife-led centre at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary will include delivery rooms with en-suite bathrooms and birthing pools. It is due to open later this year, offering women more choice about where they give birth.
The centre is being planned in response to a growing number of births in the Lothians. The number of babies born has risen steadily since 2004, with more born in 2008 than at any time in the last 15 years.
The bright and airy unit, with curved walls and large delivery rooms, is designed for women who are not expected to need medical intervention. About 1,500 women a year are expected to give birth in the more relaxed surroundings, although medical experts will still be close at hand.
Work is due to begin in spring, provided planning permission is granted. It will be built at the Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health, although it will have a separate entrance.
Maria Wilson, chief midwife at NHS Lothian, said: "The plans look fantastic and we are thrilled with them. We wanted to make sure the birthing centre had everything that women would expect and we are confident we have achieved that.
"The feedback from the groups who have helped shape the new service has been really positive. It is very exciting to see all of the plans fast becoming a reality."
Health bosses are also planning to upgrade maternity services at St John's Hospital, with plans to revamp the delivery suite. They will create en-suite facilities in delivery rooms after women asked for more privacy and dignity while giving birth.
Mathilde Peace, lay chair of the Lothian maternity services liaison committee, said: "This is a very exciting time for maternity services in Lothian. The new birthing centre will give women the option of having their baby in a homely and comfortable environment with the reassurance of being close to the hospital.
"Women in labour will have space to move around freely, a comfortable room where they can feel relaxed and make themselves at home, with adjustable heating and lighting. The option of using a birth pool is also very welcome."
Experts predict the birth rate to continue to rise in the Lothians due to inward migration. There were almost 10,000 births in the Lothians in 2008, a rise of nine per cent from the year before. The NHS is also planning a larger capacity for the new Sick Kids hospital, planned for 2012.