Interested in delivering your baby in a place that’s almost like home and has a knowledgeable and supportive staff? A birthing center might be for you.
If you’re weighing your delivery options and don’t want the clinical atmosphere of a hospital but also aren’t interested in delivering at home, a birthing center may be the best choice for you. With professional staff, minimal medical interruptions and cozy accommodations, a birthing center is the best of both worlds for many women. To help you decide whether it’s right for you, here?s everything you need to know about giving birth at a birthing center.

What a birthing center is
A birthing center is a homey, low-tech birthing option for moms-to-be who desire a natural childbirth experience. Usually, birth centers are freestanding facilities, but sometimes they?re adjacent to or inside a hospital. In most birthing centers, midwives (and not OB-GYNs) are the primary care providers. Besides offering a comfy place to deliver your baby, birthing centers provide many services including well-woman exams, preconception counseling, prenatal care, childbirth education, breastfeeding classes, postpartum care and support and post-baby birth control.

How it’s different from a hospital
At birthing centers, care is typically led by midwives, though birthing centers may work in collaboration with OB-GYNs, pediatricians and other healthcare professionals ? meaning they consult them if the need arises. But giving birth at a birthing center and giving birth at a hospital differ in a number of ways. While a labor room in a hospital looks like, well, a room in a hospital, birthing rooms at a birthing center are much swankier. And procedures that are standard or at least common in a hospital setting (such as continuous fetal monitoring, routine IVs and induction of labor) aren?t routine at a birthing center.

The benefits
Comfy digs. Birthing centers usually have soft lighting, a queen or double bed (which means your partner can cuddle with you, if you’re up for it), a television, a rocking chair, couches for family and friends and a shower, Jacuzzi tub and, sometimes, a kitchen. In many facilities, families are encouraged to personalize the room by hanging pictures, lighting candles or turning up the tunes.
Greater privacy. Birthing centers always provide private rooms for expectant mothers ? whereas at a hospital, unless your insurance covers a private room (many don?t), you?ll be moved to a semi-private room after delivery.
More freedom. You can walk around and be as active as you like, wear what you want, and give birth in whatever position feels most comfortable. You even get to eat a light meal or snack and drink during and after labor (no food or drinks during the pushing phase though). At a hospital, on the other hand, all food and fluids (except for ice chips) are usually a no-go, your movements will probably be limited (since there is usually continuous electronic fetal monitoring), and you’ll likely have to give birth lying on your back on the bed.
Families stay together. With a hospital delivery, your baby will be taken to a different room for his or her first checkup, and a few times more for other procedures. At a birthing center, however, unless he needs emergency care, your baby won’t be whisked off to another room after the birth (and family and friends won?t be sent away either ? unless you want them to be). Everything ? from preventative care like the vitamin K shot to baby’s first bath and checkup ? happens in the same room.
A shorter stay. Because fewer medications and medical interventions are involved, recovery time is shorter than at a hospital. Most families leave the center four to eight hours after birth, compared to 24 to 48 hours at a hospital. And a shorter stay means you’ll spend less money.
Reduced risk of a C-section. The rate of C-sections for women who chose a birth center to deliver is around 6% (compared to just under 26% for similar low-risk women in hospitals).
No epidural. Most birthing centers don’t give epidurals. Instead, they turn to alternative pain relief options, such as hydrotherapy, breathing exercises, massage and acupuncture. Some centers also offer nitrous oxide gas.
The downsides
Lack of centers. The number of birth centers around the country is limited (and services may be in high demand) ? especially if you live in a small town.
Possible transfer to a hospital. If there is a problem or emergency, you’ll be transferred to a hospital. Fortunately, fewer than 2 percent of transfers are due to emergencies (they?re mostly due to mom having an extremely difficult labor and/or requests for an epidural.) However birthing centers do have IVs, oxygen and infant resuscitators on hand for use during the transfer process.
No insurance coverage. Some insurance companies don’t cover births at a birthing center. Contact your insurance provider to discuss your coverage.
When you can?t give birth at a birthing center
Birthing centers handle only low-risk pregnancies. If you have hypertension, diabetes or gestational diabetes, your baby is in the breech position, you?re pregnant with multiples, or you have other issues that may cause complications, a birthing center isn’t the right option for you.

Who should be there

It’s totally up to you to decide who and how many people will be present during labor and delivery. Unlike the hospital experience, you’re not limited to a certain number (and kids won’t get the automatic boot when it’s time for you to push). Of course, that doesn’t mean you should try to pack 30 people in the room! Natural birth advocates often recommend limiting the number of people who are present, as having too many people around can be a distraction and make labor take longer. Remember, those who miss the live event can catch the replay via photos or video recordings, which are welcome at birthing centers.

How much it costs

The cost varies depending on where you live and the center you choose. In general, prenatal care and delivery at a birthing center is about $3,000 to $4,000 (typically much less than the grand total for a hospital birth). Again, check with your insurance company to determine coverage and out-of-pocket expenses.

When to find your birthing center

Birth centers aren’t able to handle as many deliveries as a hospital ? which means you should reserve your spot as early as possible (as soon as you determine you want to deliver at a birthing center ? the first trimester isn’t too soon). Be aware: Some hospitals call their labor and delivery department a ?birth center.? So just because ?birth center? is in a place?s name doesn?t necessarily mean it specializes in the homier, midwife-led childbirth experience. Visit the?Commission for the Accreditation of Birthing Centers? website to find a center near you.?Once you’ve found?one, you can?arrange to tour it. You?ll be able to learn more about the facility, meet the staff, and find out what you can do to prepare for the wonderful experience that?s soon to come.