By Tori Kropp, R.N.
What is a birth center?
A birth center is a facility that provides prenatal and childbirth care in an atmosphere that is typically relaxed and homelike. It can be free-standing or located within a hospital complex.
Your care at a center that is located within a hospital complex may be provided by nurse-midwives or physicians. Care at free-standing birth centers are typically provided by nurse-midwives.
If you experience complications during your pregnancy or labor your practitioner will consult a doctor - typically a specialist at a collaborating hospital.
What situations would make a birth center not the safest choice?
If you have or have had:
Diabetes, chronic hypertension, a seizure disorder or any chronic medical condition
A previous C-section
Tobacco or illegal drug use
A pregnancy complication, such as preeclampsia, preterm labor or significant anemia
Twins or multiples
A breech baby
What happens during labor and delivery at a birth center?
During labor at a birth center, you are free to do whatever is most comfortable for you. These may include, wearing your own clothes, laboring in the shower or bath, eating, drinking and moving around freely. The beds are generally comfortable double or queen size beds.
Your baby's heart rate will be intermittently monitored, rather than continuously. Some birth centers, particularly those located within a hospital complex, offer narcotics for pain relief during labor. Epidurals, however, typically aren't offered in free-standing birth centers because of the need for intravenous infusions, a urinary catheter and continuous electronic fetal monitoring.
Your care is provided by a professional who is skilled in natural birth. If a situation arises, with either you or the baby, that your practitioner feels cannot be safely managed at the center; you will be transferred to the collaborating hospital.
After your baby is born, your baby will remain close to you. The newborn exam may be done on your bed and used as an opportunity to discuss your baby's health and behavior. You will very likely go home after a few hours rest at the birth center. Your practitioner will follow you closely after your birth and your postpartum care may include phone calls and home visits and lactation support.
How do I choose a birth center?
If you choose to have your baby at a birth center, look for a facility that's accredited by the Commission for the Accreditation of Birth Centers or the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. Also, check with your insurance provider to be sure that your care is covered. The costs associated with using a birth center are typically much less than a hospital would be.
Pregnancy and birth are natural events and birth centers are a blend of the best things that both a homebirth and a hospital can offer.