After informally polling a dozen or so women about their recent birth experience to determine which hospital was “best”, however, I inadvertently discovered that literally, every single woman I chatted with about her baby’s hospital birth had a terrible experience.
The full reality of the situation was staring me clearly in the face. My chance of experiencing a dream birth at a hospital was basically slim to none.
At that point, I didn’t know what I was looking for but I knew I didn’t want to have my baby at the hospital and I didn’t want a homebirth either.
Birthing outside the hospital was rare even back in the late 1990s and “googling” to find out info was not yet in vogue either, so I had to find information out the old fashioned way – by asking around! After a number of weeks, I finally found someone who suggested that I try to find a birth center.
Believe it or not, I had never heard of a freestanding birth center before but after visiting one, I realized that the idea really meshed well with the type of birth I was seeking.
I ended up delivering all three of my children at a freestanding birth center. This type of birth center is not affiliated with any particular hospital and generally does not have any doctors on staff. It offers state of the art care with nurse and licensed midwives during delivery but without interference or restrictive policies that require you to deliver on your back or within a certain number of hours else they wheel you in for a C-section.
Birth centers offer a much more individually tailored approach to birth with the benefits of hospital birth and the freedom of a homebirth all wrapped into one.
Does this approach to birth appeal to you? If so, here are 21 reasons why you might consider having your baby at a birth center too!
#1: You want to have a homebirth, but don’t want to freak out your family too much.
Birth centers are a good choice if you don’t have a husband, parents, or in-laws on board with the whole out of the hospital birth thing. A birth center is a happy medium that everyone can agree to.
#2: You want to have a homebirth, but would prefer to have at least some medical equipment on hand as labor/delivery is usually quite unpredictable.
This reason played a big factor for me in choosing a birth center. I wanted the freedom of a homebirth but felt more comfortable in a location where the equipment was ready to go or a quick transfer to the hospital could occur (freestanding birth centers are frequently located in close proximity to a hospital) in case something unpredictable happened.
And, let’s face it. Birth is one of the most unpredictable experiences a woman can ever have!
#3: You want to avoid an epidural and have a natural birth.
The truth is, hospitals give lip service to natural birth. They make a lot more money with a labor/delivery that involves an intervention of some sort. A favorite tactic I’ve heard used to encourage epidurals is for the nurse to sweetly say when the woman is at her most painful contractions, “Don’t you want some medication for that, honey? You’ll feel a whole lot better right away!”.
Asking you if you want medication at the height of labor and when you are emotionally at your most vulnerable is a low blow. Most women would say “YES, GIVE ME DRUGS!”. I know I would have!
At a birth center, you don’t get those kinds of tactics. The nurses work through the contractions with you and there are many pieces of equipment like a birthing ball or birthing tub to assist you and relieve pain.
If you desire the amazing and empowering experience of natural birth, your chances of success at a birth center are a lot more favorable!
#4: You do not want a continuous fetal monitoring device used on you during labor.
Who wants an ultrasound device strapped to her belly during labor? Talk about uncomfortable. Not to mention that the safety of such a device is highly questionable.
Did you know that 50 causal human studies have demonstrated the huge dangers of fetal ultrasound? I never had an ultrasound with any of my pregnancies, and I sure didn’t want one attached to my body during labor either.
When birthing at a hospital, you frequently don’t even have a choice about continuous electronic fetal monitoring. If you want to have a midwife check the baby’s vitals only between contractions as it should be, then go to a birth center.
#5: You do not want to be induced.
Induction with Pitocin greatly increases a woman’s chances of a C-section. It also increases the odds of needing an epidural as the contractions from inducing labor progress are much stronger and more painful than natural contractions.
Hospitals are very Pitocin happy. If a woman is not progressing fast enough or her labor has stalled at 6-7 cm, a little shot of Pitocin is encouraged. Stay away and birth in a birth center if you want to avoid induction with drugs. This article on natural induction suggests alternatives.
#6: You subscribe to the philosophy that hospitals are for sick people, not mothers giving birth.
Hospitals are indeed for sick people. No surprise then that the birth process at the hospital is treated as a clinical event and not the joyous, natural occasion it truly is.
#7: You don’t want your water to be forcibly broken.
Hospitals just love to bust a laboring woman’s water. Why? It speeds things up considerably. Unfortunately, it also increases the pain of contractions significantly. Think “baby’s head ramming your dilated cervix” or “baby’s head cushioned by a bag of water ramming your dilated cervix”. Which would be more painful do you think?
When contractions become more painful, a woman is more likely to request or give in to pressure from the attendant nurse for an epidural.
As a woman who has labored all the way to 10cm with her bag of waters intact, I can tell you that it is MUCH more comfortable this way. I actually have pictures of myself talking on the phone to my Mom with a cup of tea in my hand while laboring, completely unmedicated, at 9cm.
Trust me, you don’t want some intervention happy nurse messing with your bag of waters just so he/she can go to lunch break on time!
#8: You want a homier and less sterile environment.
The picture above is the birth center where I delivered my third child. Notice the rocking chairs on the wrap-around porch, the lovely lake at the back and the overall serene environment. Isn’t this better than walking the cold, sterile halls of the hospital during labor if they even let you walk around at all?
Calm is good during birth. Things go quicker and tend to have better outcomes when you are peaceful and calm.
#9: You hate the smell of hospitals.
I hate the smell of disinfectant and all the other chemical smells that seem to exist permanently inside a hospital. Your sense of smell is heightened significantly during pregnancy too – at least mine was. The smell of a hospital would have made me ill during delivery which is another reason I chose to stay away.
#10: You want to avoid a C-section.
Birth in a hospital and your chances of C-section are somewhere between 25-40% depending on the facility. Deliver in a birth center and your chances of a C-section are less than 5%. ‘Nuff said.
#11: You want to avoid a forceps delivery.
Delivery by forceps can cause injury to your newborn. It is also the result of draconian procedures at many hospitals that require a woman to deliver on her back. Go to a birth center for more flexible policies that avoid the use of a dangerous instrument like a forceps and midwives who are skilled at delivering babies who seem to get “stuck”.
#12: You want to birth in an upright position.
I found birthing in an upright position to be optimal for me. It allows gravity to work in your favor and it also involves less stress on your baby because pushing on your back can briefly cut off the baby’s blood supply.
Delivering in an upright or squat position is unthinkable in most hospitals. Can you see a doctor or nurse down on the floor underneath you ready to catch the baby in a hospital? Go to a birth center where midwives are more flexible and know how to handle deliveries from different positions.
#13: You want a water birth.
I myself didn’t want a water birth, but many ladies do. Birth centers provide this service (usually for an additional fee), and you get the bonus of being able to labor in the tub too which does reduce pain.
Be forewarned, though, water birth is not the ideal approach to giving birth that it is promoted to be. The linked article discusses this rare downside.
#14: You want to eat and drink during labor.mentioned
I liked to eat and drink during my labor. This is a no-no at the hospital because eating before major surgery like a C-section could cause complications. Since the chance of C-section is so high at hospitals, many make it easy on themselves by just forbidding eating and drinking during labor.
#15: You don’t want the umbilical cord cut until it stops pulsing.
After the baby is delivered, the umbilical cord should ideally not be cut until it stops pulsing. This allows all the blood in the cord to go to your baby and provide extra oxygen. A baby whose cord is cut too soon can be deprived of oxygen and even possibly brain-damaged.
If you want to learn more about why it is so important not to cut the cord too soon as is the practice in many hospitals especially when the parents plan to bank some of the newborn’s stem cells, please refer to this article on the dangers of fetal cord clamping.
#16: You plan to exclusively breastfeed your child.
Hospitals love to shove a bottle of sugar water in a newborn’s mouth even if the parents have previously indicated objections to the practice. This mistake which is fairly common, can cause nipple confusion and reduce the chances of successful latching/breastfeeding.
You don’t want anything messing with your chances of a successful nursing relationship with your newborn. Your chances of successful breastfeeding are better at a birth center where bottles of sugar water and pacifiers don’t exist and supplementation with formula is not pushed.
#17: You intend to use Oral Vitamin K
The vitamin K1 injection is a synthetic form and an unnecessary intervention and pain experience for your baby. It also contains a number of dangerous ingredients and should be avoided if at all possible. If you wish to skip it, best to stay away from the intervention happy delivery teams at the hospital. Oral Vitamin K is used in Europe and is much safer.
#18: You want to actually get some rest after the baby is born.
Hospital procedures require nurses to check you and your baby every few hours to make sure everything is “ok”. This requires poking and prodding even when you are obviously sleeping! If you want to get some decent rest after your baby is born, go to a birth center where they won’t be bothering you or your baby unless it is truly necessary.
#19: You intend to skip the ointment that is typically applied to a newborn’s eyes.
There is absolutely no need for the eye ointment hospitals squirt in all newborn’s eyes. This stuff blurs their vision and interferes with the bonding process. I remember when my children were just born, I held them very close to my face and spoke softly to them and they were alert and their eyes definitely focused on my face. A newborn can see just fine from 6 or so inches away unless you squirt some useless ointment in their eyes!
If your child develops some sort of eye infection within a few days after the birth (which the eye ointment is supposed to prevent), simply drip a drop or two of breastmilk colostrum in each eye and it will clear up almost immediately.
#20: You Plan to Use Homemade Baby Formula
If you plan to use a quality homemade baby formula recipe once you get home, revealing this in the hospital risks bringing in Child Protective Services. Midwives and staff at a birth center know this option is healthy and wonderful for women who cannot breastfeed. Hence, you don’t have to have whispered conversations in a birth center about your holistic plans like when you birth in a hospital!
#21: You intend to skip the newborn PKU heel prick test.
Before a newborn leaves the hospital, he/she is pricked in the heel to draw blood to test for the genetic disorder Phenylketonuria. This disorder only affects 1 in every 10,000-15,000 babies. If you wish to spare your child the pain of this, in my view, an extremely unnecessary test, then have your baby at a birth center.
I made the mistake with my first child of going to the pediatrician 2 days after he was born at a birth center to get this test. Because I was so healthy and his blood so full of natural vitamin K because I drank nettle tea in the final weeks before giving birth, his blood clotted too quickly for the test to “take”. The doctor and nurses stabbed his heel 3 times to draw blood with the test failing each time due to his blood clotting so fast. After the third failed attempt, I could take my child’s screams from the pain no longer and finally walked out of the doctor’s office despite their protests.
My child never did have a successful PKU test and my other two children were never subjected to this test as I never allowed it again. This is one thing that if I could do over, I would have handled differently as I would have skipped the PKU completely from the get-go.
I hope this list encourages you to consider having your child at a birth center instead of the hospital.
If you are an experienced birth center Mom, doula or midwife and I’ve inadvertently left out some additional reasons for evaluating an out of hospital birth, please add them in the comments section for those who may use this post as a checklist for making this important decision!
Where to Find a Birth Center Near You
Back when I found a birth center near me, there was not much of an internet and no smartphones to easily research local establishments.
I had to do it the old fashioned way…ask around!
I inquired at health food stores, gyms and other places where folks with a healthy living mindset hang out.
Finally, one day, a chiropractor told me that he “had heard” about a local freestanding birth center in a town nearby. I called the local library and Chamber of Commerce in the area until I found the name and phone number.
I still think this is the best way to find one, as you will typically get feedback on whether the birth center is reputable or not. Reviews online can sometimes be gamed. Talking to someone about their experiences is legit.
If I can give you one piece of advice, I would suggest going with an independent birth center rather than one affiliated with a hospital. Once a birth center becomes an arm of the hospital, the midwives that staff it become restricted by the same, overly rigid standard of care procedures.
Flexibility and choices in the prenatal and birth process are the biggest reason that you probably want a birth center in the first place!
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.