Birthing Centers: Quick Guide
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Birthing Centers: Quick Guide

Contents

What Are Birthing Centers?
Can Anyone Give Birth At a Center?
Why Use One?
How Much Do They Cost?
How To Choose Or Locate A Center


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Prenatal Care Information

What Are Birthing Centers?

Also known as childbearing centers and maternity homes, birthing centers are independent homelike settings which offer a low-tech personalized location for delivery and childbirth. Many centers also offer prenatal appointments, birthing classes and breastfeeding classes. Birthing centers located in hospitals usually only offer childbirth facilities. Expectant mothers enjoy the privacy of their own birthing room, where they can stay in the same bed from labor through to recovery. A kitchen may also be available for mom or the family's use. The rooms are usually tastefully decorated with soft lighting, hot tubs and vibrant showers. Birthing centers are usually staffed by midwives but also have OB/GYNs on call. Many are located within minutes of hospitals in case of emergencies, although they often have medical equipment for interventions on hand. A pediatrician usually examines the baby before discharge. Sometimes a nurse from the center visits the infant at home several times during the first 2 weeks after birth.

Can Anyone Give Birth At a Birthing Center?

No. Only pregnant women where there is a low risk of pregnancy complications are good candidates for birthing centers. Twins, breech babies and vaginal births after cesarean section (VBAC) are not allowed to be delivered at non-hospital located (free standing) birth centers. Other high-risk situations which are not suitable for a birth center include women with diabetes requiring insulin, chronic high blood pressure, placenta previa, pregnancy induced preeclampsia/hypertension or women expecting babies with birth defects. Natural, non-medicated births are the focus, and though some mild medications may be available, epidural pain relief is not. Additionally, labor will never be induced with oxytocin (Pitocin) and a c-section delivery is not performed. However, most centers are equipped with IVs, oxygen and infant resuscitation equipment and can provide emergency care until transfer to a hospital.

Why Use One?

Assuming you are in a low pregnancy risk category, it is worth investigating the following benefits of having your baby delivered in a birthing center:

1. Comfortable environment, a pleasant alternative to the clinical setting of a hospital.
2. Emphasis on natural birth, you will not be subjected to routine medical interventions. For example, instead of continuous electronic fetal monitoring, where you have to stay in bed with a belt strapped to your waist, instead a midwife will intermittently check your baby's heartbeat with a doppler, like the one used during your regular prenatal ultrasound scans.
3. Encouragement to have a drug free birth. Although analgesic drugs such as Demerol are usually available; epidurals, which require an anesthesiologist, are not. Instead, relaxation techniques with the aid of a labor coach or doula are encouraged.
4. Expectant mothers are encouraged to behave naturally during labor, by walking, squatting or using a birthing ball. Active birth techniques are encouraged. Some birth centers provide birthing tubs/pools or showers for water births.

5. Routine episiotomies (a surgical cut to enlarge the vaginal opening) are not performed. Instead warm perineal compresses and oils are applied during birth to ease the passage of the babies head, minimizing tears. Where necessary however episiotomies can be performed and repairs of cuts can be carried out.
6. Where hospitals usually limit how many people you can have at the birth, birthing centers encourage whole families to attend, including other children.
7. HypnoBirthing: Many birthing centers offer hypnobirthing classes. This is a method of using deep relaxation and slow breathing to help release endorphins to bring about an un-medicated, less painful birth. Usually these classes are offered for an additional fee in the third trimester of pregnancy.
8. Women often experience shorter stays at a birthing center than hospitals - many are home within 12 hours.

How Much Do They Cost?

Generally birthing centers are less costly than hospitals because stays are shorter and medical interventions fewer. The average cost is usually one third to a half less than a hospital stay. Many insurance companies offer reimbursement for birthing centers, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Humana, Aetna/US Healthcare and CHAMPUS. Your local birthing center will help you determine what your health plan covers. If you are not covered by insurance, do ask if the birth center accepts alternative payment arrangements such as a sliding scale or timed payments.

How To Choose Or Locate A Center

Important criteria for choosing a birthing center:

1. Is it accredited by the American Association of Birth Centers? Check their website to locate an approved Center in your State: www.birthcenters.org/find-a-birth-center
2. Are the birth attendants licensed care workers (nurse, midwife, doctor, OB/GYN)?
3. What medical/hospital arrangements are made if there are complications during labor? Usually only 12 percent of birthing center births require hospitalization for c-sections, compared to 45-75 percent for those who start in hospitals.
4. Can I labor and deliver in the same room?
5. Does the center look clean and professionally run?
6. Can I walk, squat or move around during birth? Particularly useful if you are experiencing back pain while pregnant.
7. Are there waterbirth options?
8. What kind of postpartum care will I and my baby receive?
9. What is the minimum and maximum postpartum stay allowable?

Follow our pregnancy guide for more about symptoms, questions, trimesters, travel tips in the third trimester.

  Related Articles

For more about caring for your body when expecting, see:

Paternity Testing - Checking the DNA of child and father. Over 400,000 tests were taken in the USA in 2008 alone.
Flu during Pregnancy - Treatment options discussed.
Maternity Clothes - Jeans, waistband expanders, gowns and nursing bras explained as well as maternity size guide.

Home birth - Another alternative natural birthing option.

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