What are Birthing Centers? And What Care Do they Provide?

It seems like just yesterday that when a woman was having a baby, she had two choices: deliver at the local hospital or at home.

This is not the case today as expectant parents have more control over the process of having a baby than ever before and many expectant parents like the idea of having their baby at a freestanding birthing center.

What are Birthing Centers?

The main thing that sets birthing centers apart from hospitals is that a birthing center’s focus is on family-centered care that allows the mother to have a lot of input about what goes on during the birth of her baby. Although centers may vary greatly, most operate under guidelines and criteria established by Lamaze.

Birthing centers can be free-standing, on the grounds of an associated hospital, or inside a hospital and are usually operated by a certified nurse-midwife (CNM).

A Typical Birthing Center Room.

What Do Birthing Centers Offer Over Typical Hospitals?

When expectant parents decide to deliver at a birthing center they can expect a comfortable environment. Typically, rooms are private and have carpeting, plants, pictures, a rocking chair, and in many instances, a bed large enough so that your partner can lie down with you. While many hospitals may limit or restrict whom a mother can have attend the birth, in a birthing center, the mother decides who may attend her. Along with the expectant father or partner, other relatives, friends, and siblings may join.

Birthing centers encourage laboring mothers to choose the position they prefer for labor and delivery and even allow her to choose what clothing she wears.

How Does the Cost of Delivering at a Birthing Center Compare to a Hospital?

If you’re in the USA, the cost to deliver at a birthing center is about one-third the cost of delivering at a hospital and most major insurance companies cover birth centers. Essentially, a top-rated birthing center should combine the comforts of home with the technical expertise of modern medicine.

Another Typical Birthing Center Room with Birthing Aids.

What Care Can Birthing Centers Provide?

Most centers have IVs, oxygen, infant resuscitators, and analgesics; however, drugs, medical intervention, or fetal monitoring are not routine or expected. Women delivering in birthing centers usually have shorter stays and use fewer (if any) drugs.

However, if complications arise during the pregnancy, labor, or delivery, a birthing center may not be able to meet her medical needs. Mothers delivering in birthing centers receive their prenatal care from the providers who attend births at the center. The birthing center pre-screens mothers for risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes. Every birth carries with it a certain degree of risk and at some point that risk may not make a birthing center the best choice for delivery. Some conditions may lead to complications during labor and delivery and would therefore make using a birthing center impossible.

These complications include breech position, bleeding, history of complications with previous pregnancies, a multiple pregnancy, gestational diabetes, herpes outbreak, preeclampsia, hypertension, premature labor, or Rh blood incompatibility.

A good birthing center should be staffed by experienced midwives, an obstetrician is also usually available for consultation and is on-call for emergencies at any point during pregnancy, delivery, or postpartum. It’s best if the center is close to an area hospital so you and/or your baby can be transported quickly if an emergency should arise that cannot be handled at the birthing center. When interviewing a prospective birthing center, be sure to ask about the qualifications of the staff, what kind of care to expect after delivery, and their policies on the use of anesthesia (can you choose to have an epidural), narcotics, fetal monitoring, and other medical interventions.

To find a birthing center near you, go to the American Association of Birth Centers.


April is Violet's mom. April founded Babies for Beginners in 2020, following the success of her first authority website, Cloth Diapers for Beginners. April is an author and experienced writer with 15 years of experience writing, publishing, and editing for various newspapers, magazines, books, and blogs.

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