Birth centers are sometimes described as a compromise between a hospital birth and a homebirth. Some people might say that birth centers can offer the best of both worlds. Just what does that mean? How does a birth center differ from a hospital, and what makes it similar to a homebirth?
There are three types of birth centers – free standing birth centers, birthing centers that are linked to hospitals, and birth centers that are located inside hospital buildings. The type of care you will receive totally depends on the kind of birth center you opt for, and it is hard to generalize.
Free-standing birth centers are generally the most open to natural births, while birth centers that are located inside a hospital have most limitations. On the whole, birth center births are less medicalized than hospital births, with lower intervention rates. If you are planning on birthing at a birth center, you should generally avoid induction or a labor augmented with pitocin, and you will have a drug-free birth. Epidurals are generally not available at birth centers. Your baby’s heart rate will most likely be monitored through a doppler from time to time, and vaginal exams should also be limited.
If you do need medical interventions, you will need to transfer to hospital. It is still a good idea to ask about transfer rates, and to ask lots of questions to get a good feel of the attitudes of the midwives at the birth center you are considering. A good birth center should aim to provide a home-like, warm and supportive environment. You might have access to fancy jaccuzis, birth stools, and dimmed lights, which are not available either at a hospital or your home. One of the most commonly cited advantages of birth center births is the ability to head home very soon after giving birth.
So, why not just stay at home? After all, the birth center does not offer medical equipment that a homebirth midwife would not bring with her any way, and giving birth at a birth center definitely means that you have to travel in labor! Well, some women like the feeling of safety a birth center gives them. A birth center might offer you equipment that makes your birth easier and more pleasant, which you could never have at your home. Also, much like a hotel, once you leave the birth center, you leave the mess behind. Giving birth at a birth center also gives you the peace of knowing the neighbors will not barge in on your homebirth. If you have older children at home, a birth center might provide peace and quiet that you could never get at home too.