Ontario is creating two birthing centres run by midwives in a pilot project aimed at giving expectant mothers more choice in how they deliver their baby.

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Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday that the centres are designed to be a more pleasant environment than a hospital, and are part of a plan to move routine procedures into the community.

Officials say the locations haven't been determined, but it's believed one will be in Toronto.

McGuinty and Health Minister Deb Matthews made the announcement at Toronto's Ryerson University, where they met with mothers and their young children.

There are barely 500 accredited midwives in the province, and Matthews says the province intends to license many more.

"We've dramatically increased the number of midwives we're training to do a better job in meeting the demand," she said.

Facing a $16-billion deficit, the governing Liberals are examining ways to curb growth in health-care spending, which accounts for nearly half of every dollar the government spends.

McGuinty admitted that cost-saving is part of his government's motivation.

"[There's a] demand to reduce cost pressures within the system itself, so there couldn't be a better time," he said.

It's estimated a midwife-assisted birth costs taxpayers about one-third of what a hospital delivery costs. A birth in a birthing centre is expected to be even less expensive.

"Everybody across the province is talking about ways to bring caesarean section rates down, bring induction of labour down, and we know from data that exists already that birthing centres can achieve that goal," said Katrina Kilroy, president of the Ontario Association of Midwives.

The premier said the decision was made partly because of pressure from young mothers who told him, "I want a new option, this is not a medical experience, this is a natural experience. I'm just going to have a baby and I want to have that baby at home or in a birthing centre."

Birthing centres already exist in Quebec and Manitoba.

The NDP had promised during the election campaign to create birthing centres. The Liberals did not.

With files from The Canadian Press