In a typical birth center, licensed midwives and nurses attend to you throughout your labor. You will birth in a room that is more like a home than a hospital, most even have kitchen facilities. You can be comfortable, move around, labor in a tub, or sit in a rocking chair or on a birthing ball. Whatever makes you feel at ease is encouraged. The setting will usually be quite familiar to you, as you will have had all your prenatal care at the center as well. This eliminates some anxiety for expectant moms.
A birth center birth requires a shorter stay. You can expect to go home within several hours of the birth if you and baby are ready. You will not go home unprepared, however. You will be given plenty of instruction and be checked out thoroughly prior to your discharge. Most likely, a practitioner from the center will check on the baby and you in a couple days. You will get help with any breastfeeding issues, and new baby care questions. And since these are people you’ve been dealing with throughout your pregnancy, you’ll feel at ease in asking questions and getting assistance from them. They won’t be strangers who showed up at the birth and disappeared soon afterwards.
Privacy is also a plus at a birth centers. They don’t have patients crammed into shared or adjoining rooms. You will enjoy a suite that’s more like a hotel than hospital. Every center is a little different. Some birth centers are freestanding establishments, while others are attached to hospitals. A true birth center isn’t just a series of hospital rooms outfitted with rocking chairs and pretty curtains. It’s more about the philosophy of what a birth should be like for a family.
Usually a birth center avoids all unnecessary medical intrusion, including prep prior to birth. There are no enemas, IVs, shaving or fetal monitors that tether you to a bed. Instead, you will wear something comfy, and eat and drink as you feel comfortable doing depending on your stage of labor, and your baby will be monitored by handheld dopplers so you can move around freely. Episiotomies, which are done in nearly 90% of hospital births, typically only occur in 12% of birth center births.
However, the birth center experience isn’t for everyone. You must have a low risk pregnancy. Those with chronic conditions like hypertension, HIV, or diabetes must have a hospital birth. Likewise those carrying twins, breech babies, or women who are obese, cannot have their babies at a birthing center. If prenatal testing indicates that your baby will need special care once born, a birthing center will not be an option for you, either.
Of course, complications can crop up later in pregnancy, or even during labor. Every birth center has a standard plan for transporting patients to a medical facility. However, only about 2% of women from birth centers are transported to a hospital as an emergency.
Most birth centers accept major insurance companies. The staff at a birth center can help you figure out how the costs would be covered in your individual case. Sometimes even with out of network insurance rates, you’ll save money over a hospital birth because of the fewer expensive medical interventions at a center.
When choosing a birth center, start by asking around, talk to friends who’ve recently given birth, and do an internet search. When you’ve found potential centers, set up a time for a tour and or orientation. Most centers have a regular schedule of these to introduce you to their facilities and staff. While there, look at the set up.
- Do the rooms look nice and comfortable?
- Is there a place to labor in water?
- How much privacy will you have during the labor and birth?
- What kind of staff do they have; midwifes, nurses, and/or doulas?
- Are they licensed?
- How many staff members are there?
- Is the center accredited?
- What kinds of transportation options exist for emergencies?
- What kind of prenatal care is offered?
- How often are women transported to hospitals?
- What kind of newborn care is available?
- What type of follow up care is given after the birth?
- What kind of insurance is accepted?
- How are financial arrangements handled?