Birth Centers are safe places to get prenatal care and have babies, offering a choice for pregnant women. They are different from traditional care in a hospital, and provide a safe alternative for normal and low-risk pregnancies and birth. Studies show that Birth Centers have lower cesarean section rates and less use of medical interventions than hospitals.
At a Birth Center, the highly trained and experienced caregivers - led by midwives - provide family-centered care to healthy pregnant women. Birth Centers are designed and managed to create caring, warm, home-like settings where women are supported, respected, safe and secure. Comfortable birthing rooms are set up to look more like the mother's own room at home rather than like a hospital room, with a cradle for the newborn to stay right in the room with the mother. Many Birth Centers have kitchens and living spaces set up for the family's use while there for labor and birth.
Pregnancy and childbirth are normal healthy life events for most women and babies. In Birth Centers, midwives and staff practice a "wellness" model of birth. This means that they give continuous supportive care. Interventions are used only when medically necessary. Birth Centers recognize that a childbearing woman knows what her body needs while giving birth. Some Birth Center practices differ from common hospital procedures. At a Birth Center, if the delivering mother is hungry, she is encouraged to eat. If she wants to move about, she can. If she is more comfortable in a warm tub, it is there for her use. If she finds a certain position most comfortable to push in, she can move that way. The midwives and Birth Center attendants react to their patient's needs, while watching her closely for signs that increased support is required. Always attentive to the needs of a new mother, a Birth Center midwife will consult with doctors and transfer her patient to the hospital if necessary.
Most Birth Centers are located separate from hospitals, but they work cooperatively with doctors and hospitals as part of the whole healthcare system. Clients of a Birth Center might be referred to a doctor's care or moved to a hospital if medical needs arise. Some women get their prenatal care at a Birth Center, but choose to deliver at a hospital instead of at the Birth Center. Some Birth Center midwives also have hospital privileges, so she can continue care in the case of a transfer. In other situations, the midwives may stay with the mother through a hospital transfer to support her.