Britain's National Health Service has published guidelines which could lead to hundreds of thousands of babies being born outside hospitals.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which also controls the purse strings for NHS treatments, midwife-led centres and home births are "better" for mothers and are mostly safe for babies.

"Midwifery-led settings have better outcomes for mothers than the traditional obstetric units and labour wards," said Susan Bewley, professor of complex obstetrics at King's College London and part of the team that developed the guidelines.

"However, there isn't a one-size-fits-all model for all women and that's why a range of settings providing different support for women with different needs gives you better safety overall."

Currently, 90% of the 700,000 babies are born each year in England and Wales are delivered in doctor-led hospital obstetric units.

There are 60 midwife-led units located away from hospitals and 80 onsite units in England.

The new NHS guidelines claim that 45% of women are at extremely low risk of complications and may be better off giving birth outside the hospital.

However, it warned that women who are at risk of complications, including those over the age of 35, those that are obese, and those with high blood pressure or heart disease, should not give birth away from a hospital.