Soon, you’ll be welcoming your new baby into the world. Chances are you have a vision for how your experience will go – and choosing where you’ll give birth can help make that vision come true.

While some women choose home birthing, most women choose a dedicated space for giving birth – namely a hospital birth center or freestanding birthing center.

Hospital births have been the safe and traditional choice for ages. But over the years delivering at freestanding birthing centers has grown in popularity thanks to their homey feel and approach to the birthing process.

So, how do you choose which option is right for you?

For starters, it’s important to know how freestanding (or standalone) birth centers and hospital birth centers differ, and the environment each can provide.

But it’s also important to know that you may not have to choose experience over peace of mind. Modern hospital birthing centers can offer the charm and the low medical intervention approach of standalone centers, all with access to expert medical care.

Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in.

First things first, what is a freestanding birth center?

Free-standing birthing facilities are designed to provide a home-like, non-medical setting for birth. They’re not part of a hospital, but they do have partnerships with near-by hospitals and doctors in the event that more specialized care is needed.

Standalone centers focus on low-risk pregnancies and births, and typically use a midwifery or wellness model. This means moms-to-be go into labor without being induced and they use little-to-no pain medication throughout the process. This is often referred to as natural or unmediated birth.

What’s it like to give birth at a freestanding birth center?

When it comes to amenities, birth center rooms are usually designed to feel like a room in your home and less like a hospital room. The goal is to provide a calm and soothing environment, so things can run their course naturally.

As for your care team, a midwife will likely lead your care – from prenatal check-ups to delivery to postpartum. Midwives are highly-trained and experienced medical professionals, and pregnancy care is a core specialty. There may also be OB-GYN or family medicine doctors on staff you can work with, too.

When it comes to choosing a midwife – no matter where you plan to deliver – it’s important to understand that there are different types of midwives. Each are very experienced in midwifery, but hold different levels of certifications and credentials. So, for peace of mind, take the time to do your research.

Can you get an epidural at a birthing center?

While you may choose not to use any medications, freestanding birth centers can offer pain management options like nitrous oxide, massage therapy and some other medications – but not epidurals.

What is a hospital birth center?

A hospital-based birth center is exactly what it sounds like: a birth center located inside or attached to a hospital, and are a part of that hospital’s health system.

In the United States, more than 98% of births take place at a hospital birth center. They’re usually the most convenient option, not to mention the safest place to deliver.

What’s like to give birth in a hospital-based birth center?

Moms-to-be who are hoping for a quiet and homey environment for their birth often think hospital birth centers won’t be a fit. A few decades ago, they may have been right. But today, many hospitals are working hard to provide a place where moms can guide their own experience.

For starters, luxurious private birthing suites are becoming the standard. Are those rooms just like one you’d experience at a freestanding birth center? No.

Hospital birth center rooms – like those at HealthPartners facilities – are designed to safely and easily provide the best medical care. So, you will notice more equipment than at a freestanding birth center room.

When it comes to amenities, hospital birth centers offer many of the same creature comforts as a standalone birthing center, including: WiFi, TVs, comfortable pull-out couches for partners, and more.

Choosing a hospital birth center can also give you peace of mind in knowing that all your potential care needs can be met, before, during and after you deliver your baby. You’ll also have more flexibility on pain management, whether you’re planning a natural birth or an epidural, or simply want the ability to change your mind in the moment.

For instance, if you decide you want an epidural or you want to change up your pain medications, that’s usually not a problem at a hospital. Also, if an unplanned or emergency C-section is recommended, you won’t need to transfer to another facility.

What it’s like to give birth at a HealthPartners hospital birth center

Do you want to have a medication-free child birth but still have access to medications in case you need them? Do you want access to the best monitoring and support, but in a boutique-like setting?

At HealthPartners, we take pride in being at the forefront of combining birth center experiences within the safety of a hospital.

You can choose the type of experience you’re looking for. From vaginal births, to water births, to welcoming your doula, birth centers at hospitals can accommodate most every wish.

And if anything happens where the original plan needs to change, or if more advanced care is required for you or baby, expert care is right around the corner.

Your care team will be made up of board-certified OB-GYNs, pediatricians, certified nurse-midwives, experienced labor and delivery nurses, and so many others who help bring babies into the world every day.

Find a hospital-based birth center designed just for you

Learn more about our birth centers

What you need to think about as you make your decision

1. Is your pregnancy considered high-risk?

Making sure you safely deliver your baby is the top priority of every hospital and accredited freestanding birth center. But it’s important to know that freestanding centers focus only on low-risk pregnancies and births.

This means if your pregnancy is more complex – such as multiples or pre-term labor – or you have certain health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, you’ll need to deliver at a hospital.

Why is this the case? Standalone birth centers have standard medical equipment and many have medical doctors on staff, but they aren’t equipped to handle more advanced medical needs.

For example, birth center care teams can’t induce labor, or use a vacuum or forceps during delivery. They also can’t perform a C-section if one is needed, so they’ll need to coordinate care with a local hospital – which we’ll touch on in the next section.

2. How will your care team handle complications if they arise?

Again, your safety is always a top priority – no matter where you plan to deliver. But knowing how your care team handles possible complications or prolonged labor can give you some peace of mind.

For example, according to a recent American Association of Birth Centers study of nearly 16,000 women, about 16% were transferred to a hospital before, during or immediately after birth. So, if you’re leaning toward a freestanding birth center, you may want to ask how they coordinate care with a nearby hospital when needed.

If you’re thinking a hospital is the best option for you, you may want to ask when certain medical interventions like induction or C-section are deemed necessary.

3. What are your pain management preferences?

Pain management during labor and delivery is an important part of the birthing experience. If you’re good with little-to-no pain medication, a birth center can be a contender.

But that means if you think an epidural is something you would consider, a standalone birth center may not be the best choice. Most birth centers can’t give epidurals. So, changing your mind on that may not be an option. If it is an option, you may need to be transferred to a hospital to get the epidural.

4. Think about the experience you want

If you want to feel like you’re laboring and delivering in the comfort of your own home – and you meet low-risk guidelines – a birth center can be an option.

If you want pain management flexibility or peace of mind in knowing you have access to hospital services, a hospital-based birth center is the ticket.

If you want to be forgo pain medications and be untethered from a monitor so you can move more freely, either option can check those boxes.

You can have your birth your way

If you have risk factors that require a hospital delivery but want the homey touch of a birth center, a hospital-based birth center can give you the best of both worlds.

Visit our Birth Center Experience to learn more about our birth centers. There you’ll learn about our birthing approach, get connected to virtual tours of each of our hospital birth centers and more.

Find a hospital-based birth center designed just for you

Learn more about our birth centers