A usual experience for me as a Lamaze Educator is beginning our class with introductions. We often hear from students about where they are birthing, who their chosen medical provider is, and when their estimated "guess date" is.
Inevitably there are families that say "we are birthing at FamilyBaby Center" (psst. that's not a real place, just go with it). I find so often that pregnant people and families are confused by the smart marketing efforts of local hospitals and can sometimes be led to believe they are birthing in a Birth Center just because the name includes "Center" and "Birth". So let's talk about WHAT makes a birth center a BIRTH CENTER and why you should care.
The definition of a Birth Center by The State of Minnesota:
So what's the difference anyway and why should you care?
If you're intention is to birth in a low risk setting, with waterbirth as an option, fully staffed by midwives and a care team that supports, acknowledges and believes in low-risk normal birth a hospital just isn't going to offer that. Yes, I know, there are some beautiful hospitals locally and nationally that offer a great location for low-risk birthing people with Midwives on staff. That's great! What we are getting at here is if you intend to birth at a Birth Center (free-standing, not in a hospital) then it's important to know the difference.
Birth Center's do not use medical induction/augmentation methods.
If you are a low-risk birthing person planning an un-medicated birth, it's important to know that when you birth at a Birth Center pitocin or other drugs/synthetic hormones will not be used to start or alter your labor.
The entire staff of a Birth Center is comfortable with the usual 'un-medicated birth plan'.
Want to move around in labor? They want that too! Want to eat and drink during labor? They insist! Want to have delayed cord clamping, waterbirth, doula, partner catch the baby, family involved, photographer on site? Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep.
Birthing at a Birth Center IS safe for low-risk pregnant people!
The AABC (American Association of Birth Centers) has some very good information on this topic in their National Birth Center Study.
Other than nitrous-oxide during labor, there are no epidurals or narcotics for pain management at Birth Centers.
For some people who are planning an un-medicated birth having this pain medications readily available is too tempting and they want those pain meds to be in another building completely so if they decide they want it, they have to take some effort to go get it. This isn't for everyone, but if your intention is an un-medicated birth it can be a great way to set yourself to GET that un-medicated birth you're preparing for.
When you surround yourself with people who typically practice the type of birth you're intending to have, you are setting yourself up for success and if something should go off course - you have a team of people who know what to do next.