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What is a Birth Center?

What is a birth center?. For women with a low-risk pregnancy who want more relaxed and natural birth experience, a birth center may be an appealing option. Keep reading for information on birthing centers.

What is a Birth Center?
A birth center is a facility for delivering babies that is designed to be more comfortable for the mother. Birth centers have their roots in the 1970s when mothers began to demand more natural birth experiences. Instead of feeling like a hospital, a birth center is decorated like a home. It often has a large bed so the mother’s birth partner can stay with her during and after labor and delivery. Birth centers also usually have a shower and bathtub, and possibly a jacuzzi for the mother to labor in. The mother usually has more freedom to labor in whatever position is comfortable for her, to eat or drink during labor, and possibly to wear her own clothes.

Babies born in birth centers are usually delivered by midwives, nurse midwives, or nurses, though sometimes an obstetrician may also be available. Birth centers may be part of or attached to a hospital, or they may be separate facilities. The presence of medical equipment in a birth center is kept to a minimum, and painkillers may not be available. Safe birth centers should have an affiliation with a nearby hospital in case something goes wrong during the delivery and the baby or mother needs emergency medical care.

Birth centers are usually small, so mothers may feel like they have more privacy and can get to know the staff helping with their delivery. Birth centers usually have a focus on having the baby room in with the mother after birth and encourage breastfeeding, which has important benefits for the baby and the mother. Though mothers usually have a shorter postpartum stay in the birth center than they would in a hospital, good birth centers focus on teaching mothers about parenting while they are there.

Choosing a birth center

To find a birth center in your area, you can talk to local hospitals and obstetricians, check your area phonebook, or search online. Before you commit to using a particular birth center, make sure it is covered by your insurance or payment plan, and that you are comfortable with the midwives or doctors who will be delivering your baby.

The following questions can help you decide if you feel comfortable with a birth center’s policies and procedures:

  • What is the birth center’s connection to a hospital if there's an emergency?
  • How often are patients transferred to a hospital?
  • What happens if there is a problem during labor or delivery?
  • Are any painkillers available?
  • Who can be present (family members, doula, etc.)?
  • What labor positions can I use (i.e. squatting, standing, kneeling on all fours)?
  • Can I eat or drink during labor?
  • How common are episiotomies ?
  • Is a bath, pool, or shower available during labor?
  • What kind of monitoring is used during labor?
  • Do labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery occur in the same room?
  • Can music or other touches from home be used in the delivery room?
  • Can family members stay with the mother after the birth?
  • Can the baby room in with the mother?
  • What are the minimum and maximum stays after birth?

Birth centers are probably a bad choice if you have any health programs or a high risk pregnancy, and many birth centers won’t accept patients who have certain conditions:

  • Multiple birth (twins, triplets, etc.)
  • Diabetes
  • Preeclampsia
  • Vaginal birth after C-section
  • Breech baby

Even if medical conditions or insurance constraints won’t allow you to use a birth center, you may be able to find hospitals that offer some of the same benefits as birth centers. Many hospital labor and delivery centers are trying to give mothers more control over their birth experiences and make their labors more comfortable. Decide what you want from your birth experience and what practical constraints you have, then do some research and talk to doctors and hospitals to find the best match for you.

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