When I was thinking about where I wanted to give birth, it was kinda the Goldilocks tale…

I knew that I didn’t want to give birth at home. As beautiful as it sounds, we lived in a small, urban condo that didn’t have a lot of open space, or accessories like big bathtubs, birthing bars or stools.

But, I also didn’t want a sterile, intervention-friendly hospital. Fluorescent lights, hard tables and stirrups didn’t sound appealing either.

That’s when I landed on a birth center. It was just right… It had some of the comforts of home with the resources of a hospital.

So, what is a birth center anyway?

A birth center is a home-like facility for giving birth. Birth centers provide family-centered care to expectant mothers, meaning that the family and midwives collaborate to decide on the best way to care for mom and baby. As a general rule, birth centers don’t perform routine interventions such as continuous fetal heart rate monitoring or IV fluids. Birth center midwives trust that birth is a natural and normal process and they support women to trust that their bodies know what to do.

Keep in mind, there are two main types of birth centers: free-standing centers and centers that are in or near a hospital and affiliated with the hospital. A birth center that is affiliated with a hospital is likely to have a higher intervention rate because it has to adhere to hospital standards. Because hospital standards vary, hospital-affiliated birthing centers can vary too and may not follow the same standard of care that freestanding centers do. If you are considering having your baby at a hospital-affiliated birth center you may want to ask these questions when interviewing them:

  • Does the birth center have it’s own staff?
  • When and how often do they rely on hospital staff?
  • What is the transfer rate?
  • What is the C-sections rate?
  • What is the epidural rate?

Who will attend your natural childbirth at a birth center?

Your birth will be attended by a team of midwives, midwife assistants, and/or student midwives. Many midwives make it a priority to develop and keep a good professional relationship with local OBs and practitioners in the hospital in case of a need for consult or transfer. However, the birth will be attended by the midwives that own and run the birthing center. If you are at a hospital-affiliated birthing center, your birth may also be attended by a hospital nurse.

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Why choose a birth center over a hospital?

Safety – A recent study found that, for women experiencing low risk pregnancies, giving birth at a birthing center is far safer than at the hospital. The national C-section rate for low risk women is an astounding 32.7% while the C-section rate for women who intend to birth at a center is 6%.

Comfort – Your room at a birth center is low tech, private and relaxing. There is often a large bed for co-sleeping (and room for dad too!) rather than a small hospital bed. Many birth centers will only have one or two women in labor at a time and their midwifery team, which helps support your privacy. Many birth centers have birthing balls, stools, tubs, and other props to help you find the most comfortable position. You can also bring your own decorations or inspirational items.

Support – Midwives understand that birth is an incredibly personal experience and that every woman needs to make choices for herself and her baby. They believe that parents are capable of making those choices when they are allowed to review the evidence for themselves. Midwives treat women like people not patients. Midwives are supportive of women who are choosing a natural, low-intervention birth. In addition, they can help you work to stay calm, relaxed and unafraid during labor and delivery during your natural birth. They will also support you if you choose to (or have to) go to the hospital last minute and may even be able to meet you on the side of the road if needed!

Cost – A birth center birth is less than half of the cost of a vaginal birth in a hospital. Though the exact cost will vary by state, midwifery care is usually around $2000 while a vaginal birth at the hospital is $8000. If you don’t have insurance the cost savings are obvious. If you do have insurance, and midwifery care is covered, you will pay about the same or less for a birth center birth than for a hospital birth. If you happen to have a high deductible, you may pay less for midwifery care at a birth center than what you are responsible for (after insurance) for the hospital birth.

Individualized care – Birth centers often have a small staff of midwives so you will get to know each midwife throughout your pregnancy and prenatal appointments. Therefore, the women you see during your prenatal appointments are the ones that attend the birth. Additionally, you can choose the length of stay at the birth center, meaning you can go home the same day you give birth if you desire. Birth centers often offer home visits where the midwife will check on you and your baby a day or two postpartum.

What if something goes wrong?

The birth center is part of the healthcare system. If a serious complication arises, transfer to appropriate medical care is made. Birth centers are equipped with oxygen and infant resuscitation equipment and midwives are trained and prepared to use them if necessary.

Midwives are also trained to see a complication arising early enough to transfer in time. In the study mentioned above, of the 12% of women who transferred to the hospital during labor, only 1.9% were emergency transfers.

Additionally, during your prenatal appointments your midwife evaluates your pregnancy and whether a birth center birth continues to be the safest option for you. Midwives are trained to see complications in pregnancy (preeclampsia, diabetes, etc) and recommend a consult with an OB, or a transfer of care if needed. They are also well trained in dealing with some minor complications holistically and naturally so that a transfer of care can be avoided.

Where can I find a birth center?

  • The best way to find a birth center that’s local to you is to google “Birth center” plus your city name or zip code.
  • Once you’ve found an option or two, see if Google has any customer reviews you can view. Or check Yelp.
  • Of course, asking friends an family is a great option too. Put the question out on Facebook: Has anybody delivered at a birth center? Do you recommend it?
  • Finally, the American Association of Birth Centers has an online locator under the “for parents” navigation option.

Here’s what other natural mamas have to say about birth centers

I asked the moms on my Facebook page if they gave birth at a birth center and what their experience was like. Here are some of their responses.

  • I gave birth at Edenway Birth Center in Cleburne Tx. It was a water birth and it was truly amazing. The care I received was so personalized to our family. So much better than a hospital with an obgyn. I had originally began with an ob but switched to midwifery care halfway through. Best decision I ever did! Our birth experience was the best! The center is so welcoming and comfortable plus the midwives are like family to us! – Jennifer A.W.
  • Both my daughters were born at my local birth centre with a midwife and a doula. Both were really positive intervention-free experiences in a lovely home-like environment. Overall I was really happy with the support I received and highly recommend the experience. – Briana T.
  • I gave birth to my second baby at Natural Beginnings Birth Center in Statesville, NC. I loved that I was able to have a water birth attended by two midwives that I knew well from all my appointments (no unfamiliar nurses). The birth center was a calm, quiet environment and I felt very comfortable there. I also loved that I was able to go back home the same day I gave birth. – Jessica R.
  • Both of my births were at a birthing center. They were INCREDIBLE (Heart 2 Heart in Sanford, FL). I would have preferred home births but my insurance wouldn’t cover it. Next best thing was a birth center. Both of my labors/births were so different (both yielded 10lb babies though! ?) but the experience in both were amazing! – Jackie A.C.
  • I had an all natural, drug-free water birth in a birthing center in Seoul, Korea. I thought about having a home birth but I was too nervous to do that in a foreign country. It was a great experience. I had a long active labor, (nearly 16 hours), and there was no mention of induction or painkillers. My doctor actually favored natural birth. I was able to do delayed cord cutting, my husband cut the umbilical cord, skin to skin contact and breastfeeding were initiated right away, etc. I pretty much got the birth I wanted, I am extremely blessed. The only part I did not like was the lack of privacy. People still had to come in to “check” on me, (blood pressure, etc), a few times. I really just wanted to snuggle with my baby and not be interrupted. wink emoticon I was ready to go home within hours of giving birth but I had to stay until they said it was OK. (I still went home shortly after, just hated waiting. ) Next time I am considering a home birth. – Keri H.
  • I gave birth in a free standing birth center in March. Best experience ever! It was so comfortable for us. It’s a wonderful setting between hospital and home birth. We got to go home so quickly too which was a huge bonus for me. I would definitely do it again. – Amber M.
  • I gave birth in a birth center last December. It was my first birth and it happened very fast. We were only there for 3 hours when my baby came. It was such an empowering experience and so calm and private. We relaxed with the baby afterwards alone and the midwife and nurse were very helpful with starting breastfeeding . Went home 6 hours after he was born and had lots of follow up visits and phone calls that week, which I always had questions being a new mom smile emoticon my husband was very involved with the delivery since the midwife needed help because the nurse didn’t arrive until I was pushing baby out. – Liz P.
  • Freestanding birth center for our third. Amazing water birth. So relaxing and they just breathed confidence in my body’s ability to birth. – Alissa I.
  • I had an awesome natural vbac birth at Andaluz Waterbirth center is Portland Oregon. They are my angels and they trusted me and my body. I had to transfer to a hospital for postpartum bleeding but my midwife was highly trained and reacted appropriately when the situation required doctor intervention. I birth centers! – Anna R.
  • I had my son at a birth center and it was wonderful. I had a fantastic midwife and it was a much more relaxed, calm, comfortable environment than a hospital. It didn’t feel that much different, for me, than how I imagine birthing at home would be. I wish this were a more accessible option. Where I live now, we don’t have any birth centers. – Heather N.

Birth center vlog

Here’s an intimate look at the the immediate aftermath of my daughter Paloma Skye’s birth center birth! See the grandparents and big brother visit the birthing room right after the delivery. Plus the next two days we spent at the birth center.

Bonus action: Watch Papa Natural smuggle my placenta out of the birth center.

How about you?

Did you give birth at a birth center? How was your experience there? Share with us in the comments below!