Planned home births in Stroud have been on the increase since 2007 and the town is credited with having the most home births in Gloucestershire over the past two years. SNJ reporter Harriet Hernando finds out why there is no place like home for bringing a baby into the world and discovers a very proactive maternity unit which even encourages first time mums to consider the option.

STROUD mum of three Lynsey Kelleher gave birth to her first two children Noah, four, and Oscar, three, in her children's playroom.

"It was incredible, the most amazing experience," she said.

"I was pregnant, not sick, so why go to hospital to give birth?"

"I'm not saying it was easy. It was hard work and it was painful, but it was miles better than being in hospital with strangers surrounding you," said Lynsey, 35 whose third child, Rufus was born at Gloucestershire Royal under epidural because of complications.

During a home birth the only forms of pain relief available are gas and air and a pethidine injection which helps women relax.

In Lynsey's experience, the fact that she was at home for two of the births made her feel so at ease she opted out of any pain relief.

"When you're at home you're more relaxed and that is the biggest pain relief ever," she said.

Lynsey, who hired a birthing pool from Stroud Maternity Hospital, was also able to look forward to a glass of champagne after all the hard work, as well as curling up in her own bed with her new family.

Besides putting the fizz on chill, Lynsey's husband Brinley, 34, who is a teacher at Cotswold Chine, covered the carpets with plastic sheets, prepared a night bag in case Lynsey was transferred to hospital and made a CD of all her favourite songs to listen to during the birth.

Meanwhile Oscar and Noah were put to bed in a room on the top floor of the three-storey house.

"I chose to have a home birth because I did not want the experience to be medical. I had confidence in my ability to have a baby. I knew I had to be strong because I felt like I only had myself to rely on. You go with your instincts.

"If you are confident in your ability as a woman then you can be confident giving birth and being a mother.

"When we were left alone, minutes after the baby arrived, in our own home, the family bonding was wonderful, " said Lynsey who remembers the hospital experience less fondly.

"A hospital is a cold, sterile environment and I felt like I was on a conveyor belt of pregnant women," she said.

When a stranger delivered her baby Lynsey says she missed her trusted midwife Sarah Hunt from Stroud Maternity Hospital.

"Having the same midwife through each pregnancy was amazing. It made the experience very natural, like I had my whole family around me," she said .

Michelle Poole, head of midwifery at Stroud Maternity Hospital, agrees that the time the family spends together following the birth is magical.

"It brings tears of joy to my eyes when I see mum cradling the new baby and the family surrounding her," she said.

Mrs Poole runs a unit of 30 midwives who are passionate about their work.

The dedicated members of staff set up a Home Birth Group where women and their partners can go for advice and meet other couples who have been through the experience.

"Home births are not suitable for everyone, but we like to give each woman the choice," said Mrs Poole.

"Some women prefer to have that reassurance of being in a hospital with an epidural at armÕs length."

But women with medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, or whose baby is positioned to come out feet first, are advised to give birth in a hospital.

While most women are discouraged from having their first baby at home, Stroud Maternity Unit does not discriminate against first time mums.

"First time mums are more likely to have a long labour without progression and therefore have a high chance of being transferred to hospital, but we think everyone should be given the choice," said Mrs Poole.

She is also quick to dispel the belief that home birth is risky.

"The home is a safe environment to have a baby," she said.

And she added that older and middle class pregnant women were more likely to possess the confidence to go ahead with a home birth although Stroud's midwife unit promotes the service to all pregnant women. Stroud Maternity Home Birth Group is meeting on Saturday, September 17 from 10 to 12pm in Dursley and on Thursday, October 13 from 10 to 12pm in the health education room in Beeches Green Health Centre.

For more information call 01453 562 140.

NHS statistics showing the number of home births carried out in Gloucestershire during 2010/2011: Forest of Dean - 49; Stroud - 80; Cheltenham - 34; Cotswolds - 14; Gloucester - 53; Tewkesbury - 13; Total - 243.