I have in my bedroom an old oak birth stool. I think it is early 20th century Spanish. It is basically three legs that bolt to a seat. The seat is narrow, curved and has hand grips, and there is a back-rest. It is a bit like this one (which is also Spanish) but is carved. The whole thing can be unbolted, tied together and left to sit in the back of a cupboard until needed. It is perfectly usable and simple.
There are a variety of birth stools, birth balls and birthing beds on the market. They must comply, of course, with "health and safety" requirements and are generally rather expensive. The NCT, for example, sells a fibre glass birth stool for £1,000 (not sure whether that says more about the stool or the NCT). However, most birth furniture is German and sells for German prices, and the UK seems not to either design or manufacture much decent birth furniture at all. The NCT birth stool for example is almost the only one readily available in the UK. But with 5,200,000 babies born annually in the EU, the market should surely be doing more?
Most birth beds are expensive, heavy, complicated and pretty uncomfortable, especially to sleep on. They are also quite hard to move around on and mobility is crucial in labour. Birth balls are popular because they are cheap (hence most maternity units have them and many people can afford one) and do a reasonable job especially in aiding pelvic movement. Most birth stools are pretty uncomfortable after any length of time and they can be hard to get down onto or up from. Few women want to spend much time on them and it is probably best if they don't, however great they can be for birth.
Enter the Osborne Chair!! This is a chair designed to aid mobility, be comfortable, be easy to get on and off, and comply with regulatory requirements. It particularly does what few other birth furniture does - cater for the need of labouring women to hang over things, to lean and kneel and rock and roll their pelvis. It is still in the development stage but looks good. Undercover Midwife looks forward to its launch and hopes it leads to the development of much more furniture designed for pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding.