A birthing center is a healthcare facility where healthy women with low-risk pregnancies can give birth in an atmosphere that is more relaxed than a hospital. Birthing centers provide more safety than home births if unexpected problems occur, while offering a natural, home-like setting. A birthing center is often an independent facility affiliated with an obstetrician or hospital, and sometimes is located on a hospital’s premises. Birthing centers are equipped to handle infant resuscitation and some emergencies until the mother and/or baby can be moved to a hospital, but generally aren't equipped to offer C-sections, epidurals, care for at-risk newborns, or the high-tech services problem deliveries may require.
Women who are expecting multiple births or who have medical conditions such as diabetes, toxemia, or high blood pressure are not considered good candidates for delivery at a birthing center. Additionally, if prenatal care determines that the infant may be at risk, a birthing center is not an option, and the pregnant woman will be informed that she needs to give birth in a hospital equipped with the technology and expertise needed to achieve the best outcome. The birthing center offers prenatal care and monitors the mother’s health throughout the pregnancy to ensure that the woman and fetus remain low risk and good candidates for delivery outside of the hospital setting.
Nurses and/or midwives at a birthing center provide education about pregnancy, prenatal care and the birth process. They provide prenatal care and perform the delivery, and encourage the woman to have a natural childbirth. Women who want a natural childbirth and who prefer to have more control over their birth experience than hospitals may allow often opt for the birthing center alternative.
Many hospitals forbid the laboring woman from eating or drinking, while a birthing center allows her to eat or drink if she chooses. The rules at some hospitals insist that a woman give birth in one position while birthing centers allow her to move around, and some centers offer the option of a water birth. Some birthing centers also offer the services of a doula. This is a non-medical person trained to coach a woman through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum. A doula is not a medical provider but is knowledgeable about subjects related to pregnancy, labor, nursing, infant care, and self care.