Freestanding Birth Centers

First, we need to make it clear that freestanding birth centers should not be confused with an in hospital “birthing room” also called “birthing suites”  and sometimes birth centers. While many hospitals are introducing these rooms for the mothers’ comfort, there are vast differences between the two.


Freestanding Birth Centers

What Are Freestanding Birth Centers?

A freestanding birth center is a place  where you and your birthing team come together to create family-centered care in a homelike setting.  This type of setting is very similar to a home birth except that you are in someone else’s home.

A birth center is a place where you are not only supported and respected but where you are safe and secure as well.

Safety Of Freestanding Birth Centers

Birth centers are very safe for you and for your baby.

Birthing centers combine human touch with some technology to give you the time and attention you need before, during and after the birth of your baby. Your care is provided by qualified professionals – most often a midwive – who practice a wellness and holistic approach to pregnancy, birth and women’s health care.

Birth centers were designed for healthy, low risk mothers and their healthy babies.

They operate in a very relaxed environment, sort of like a country inn. But do not confuse relaxed for unsafe as this would be far from the truth.

How Is A Birth Center Different From A Hospital?

As the “guest of honor,” you are invited to use the birthing center’s kitchen to prepare foods – since eat and drink during you are indeed allowed to and after labor.

Another important factor is privacy.

Instead of 15 or 20 women birthing simultaneously, there is usually only one or two women in the birth center at the same time.

Generally, birth centers provide you and your family with many educational classes throughout your pregnancy. The classes are designed to help you understand the many changes you will go through during pregnancy, birth and after the birth of your baby.

If you choose a freestanding birth center, you will learn that at the birthing center, you are able to:

  • Wear your own clothes
  • Eat and drink in labor
  • Get out of bed and walk around
  • Enjoy a birth pool or tub
  • Choose your support people – husband, mother, friend, doula, etc.

Basically, you are in control.

It is up to you to decide how you want your birth experience to be. Whatever feels best for you, your midwife will support. So, yes…

…You can squat, lie on your side, sit in the bed, a chair, the toilet – which happens quite frequently – or you may even feel more relaxed in water.

It is all up to you!!

Remember, like anything else, it is known that problems may occur in labor. But do not worry, there are systems set up to transfer you to the hospital if necessary.

The national average of transport for freestanding birth centers is about 12% – of which only 2% are for emergencies.

Freestanding Birth Centers And Breastfeeding

Birth centers promote breastfeeding, and since your baby will be born without drugs, he will be alert and will typically nurse within the first hour.

However, nursing is encouraged immediately.

The staff of a birthing center is knowledgeable with whatever breastfeeding issues may arise. Before you leave their care, they will make sure that you and your baby have a wonderful breastfeeding relationship going.

Also, there is no separation between you and your newborn baby. All treatments or exams are done on or next to you.

Freestanding Birth Centers Routines

At a birthing center, there are no routines – or they are kept to a minimum. This usually means no routine prep, enema, IV or electronic fetal monitoring.

But don’t worry, your baby’s heartbeat is monitored by a handheld Doppler or if – for safety reasons – you so choose, a fetoscope.


Freestanding Birth Centers


There is also a difference in philosophy about episiotomies – surgical opening of the vagina – which are not routine. Birth centers episiotomy rate is only 12% compared to about 90% in hospitals. This is a huge difference!

Sometimes, a warm compress is used to ease the baby’s passage or nothing is done at all. Midwives trust that you are powerful and that you were designed to birth your baby with little – if any – assistance.

So How Do You Choose A Birth Center?

In order to make a responsible decision you should seek this information from the center you are interested in:

1. Are the attendants’ licensed health care providers?

2. Is the center accredited by the Commission for the Accreditation of Birth Centers?

3. What are the arrangements for care if complications arise?

4. What do the charges for care cover and will your insurance plan pay for these services?

Your birthing center should have an orientation class to let you know what goes on at the center as well as to take you on a tour of the facility. This information should also be available to you at the orientation:

  • Do the providers seem professional?
  • Is the place clean?
  • Is it well organized?
  • What kind of insurance does the Birth Center accept?
  • Who is the consulting physician for that Birth Center?
  • Where is the back-up hospital?
  • Do the birth center providers have hospital privileges?
  • Can they stay with you during labor and delivery if they do not have hospital privileges?
  • How many women are transferred to a hospital while in labor?
  • What are the most frequent reasons for transfer?
  • Is there a library?
  • Are the handouts thoughtfully put together? Do they look professional?

Remember, according to the National Birth Center Study, 98.8% of women using a birth center would recommend it to friends and family and/or return to the center for a later birth.

We wonder what that statistic is for hospital births?


Further resources:


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