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 people choose home birthing, most people choose a dedicated space for giving birth – namely a hospital birth center or freestanding birth center.
Hospital births have been the safe and traditional choice for ages. But over the years, delivering at freestanding birth 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 the pros and cons of birth centers that are freestanding compared to those that are attached to hospitals, 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 birth 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? First, we’ll explain what to expect at a freestanding birth center and at a hospital-based birth center, and then we’ll share factors to consider as you make your decision.
What is a freestanding birth center?
A birth center is a facility designed to provide a homelike, nonmedical setting for birth. Freestanding birth centers aren’t part of a hospital, but they do have partnerships with nearby hospitals and doctors in the event that more specialized care is needed.
These standalone centers only focus on low-risk pregnancies and births, and typically use a midwifery or wellness model. This means parents-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 unmedicated 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 freestanding birth center model of care 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 checkups to delivery to postpartum. Midwives are highly-trained and experienced medical professionals, and pregnancy care is a core specialty. There may 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 freestanding birth 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 generally not epidurals.
What is a hospital-based birth center?
A hospital-based birth center is exactly what it sounds like: a birth center located inside or attached to a hospital, as 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 it like to give birth in a hospital birth center?
Parents-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 parents can guide their own experience.
While luxurious private birthing suites are becoming the standard in hospitals, you may notice more medical equipment in a hospital birth center room than a freestanding one. This is so that doctors can safely and easily provide the best medical care possible at every stage of labor and delivery.
When it comes to amenities, hospital birth centers offer many of the same comforts as a standalone birth center, including Wi-Fi, 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. You’ll have more options and flexibility for your pain management, whether you’re planning on 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’s it like to give birth at a HealthPartners hospital birth center?
At HealthPartners, we put particular focus on making sure that our hospital-based birth centers combine all the best parts of standalone birth centers with the state-of-the-art care and safety that hospitals provide.
At the Methodist and Regions birth centers, most medical equipment is built into and “hidden” in the rooms – you won’t see it unless you need it. The rooms have been designed to feel like a comfortable space in your house or a boutique hotel, providing a more relaxed labor and delivery experience. And when it comes to the care you receive, you can choose the type of experience you’re looking for. From vaginal births, to water births, to welcoming doulas, birth centers at hospitals can accommodate most wishes.
Our midwifery practices also allow you to experience the same kind of intimate, nonmedical approach that you would get at a freestanding birth center, if that’s your preference. And the rest of your care team, including your OB, can offer the same approach if your labor progresses without the need for interventions and you let them know your wishes – however, midwives typically spend more time with you during delivery than an OB might be able to.
Full care team
Plus, 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. Our care team includes board-certified OB-GYNs, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, family medicine doctors, experienced labor and delivery nurses, and so many others who help bring babies into the world every day.
We also understand that not everyone feels comfortable in medical settings, and we do our best to provide empathetic, respectful care. This means:
- Implicit bias training for our care providers
- Ensuring support people are involved in the birth process
- Keeping newborns with their parents at all times unless medically necessary
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 having multiples or being at risk for preterm 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, freestanding 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 the same reasons that freestanding birth centers can’t handle complex pregnancies, they also can’t handle life-threatening complications during delivery. So in the event that something unexpected happens that puts you or your baby at risk, they’ll need to transfer you to a hospital. And there may be additional risks depending on how serious the complication is or how far the birth center is from the hospital.
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 in the moment may not be an option.
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 forgo pain medications and be untethered from a monitor so you can move more freely, either option can check those boxes.
5. Consider freestanding birth center vs. hospital costs
Because freestanding birth centers only handle low-risk pregnancies and put less emphasis on medication than hospitals, the associated costs can be lower. But if you end up needing a transfer to a hospital, that can come with its own costs.
It’s important to remember that choosing a hospital-based birth center doesn’t prevent you from taking the same approach to labor and delivery that you would at a freestanding birth center – the equipment and medications can simply be there in case you need them.
Are birth centers covered by insurance?
Whether your insurance will cover labor and delivery at a birth center may depend on a number of factors, including your specific plan, the location of the birth center and whether it’s attached to a hospital. Talk to your insurance provider to find out more.
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 birthing approach, get connected to virtual tours of each of our hospital birth centers and more.