A birth centre is a place where you can have your baby with the assistance of midwives, and/or obstetricians, but it is not a hospital. Women who give birth in a birth centre can also be assisted by a doula or birthing coach.
Primarily, a birth centre is a low-intervention establishment designed to create a home-like environment, but with the back up of medically trained personnel. The overriding philosophy behind a birth centre is that giving birth is a normal thing for a woman to do, rather than a medical condition.
There is a limit to the type of medical assistance that can be provided in a birth centre, so for this reason women are carefully screened for low-risk pregnancies. Provided your pregnancy is low-risk and you are likely to have a straight forward labour, then you should have no problem being accepted in to a birth centre. However, eligibility varies from centre to centre, so be sure to check this during your research.
Why Consider a Birth Center?
- During labour and delivery, birth centres allow you to bring support people in to the birth with you. This can be your husband, mother, friend or a doula. Children are also permitted, if you want to include them in the experience.
- Birthing centres work in consultation with a team of obstetricians, so it is less medicalised, but has the benefit of medical backup if an emergency situation arises.
- You can move around freely, choose the position you’d like to be in for labour and delivery, and eat and drink during labour.
- Research has shown that there is a lower rate of caesarean section for women who labour in a birthing centre, it also shows that you are less likely to need other intervention (such as forcepts or an episiotomy), you will have less chance of being induced and less problems breast feeding.
- There is minimal pain relief available in a birthing centre, in keeping with the ethos of a natural birth.
- No anaesthesia available
- Transfer from birth centre to hospital is required for complications with mother or baby.
- Birth centres are not readily available. For example, Melbourne has only three publicly funded birth centres. Private birth centres may not be available to all women due to lack of insurance.
- Your stay in the birth centre is usually much shorter than a stay in a maternity ward, in hospital. It can range from six hours, up to 48 hours.
- Not all birth centres are the same. It is important that you research each birth centre individually as they can vary in a number of ways, such as rates of using tests and procedures, policies and restrictions, and interaction between the back-up hospital and physicians.
- Some birth centres don’t accept women over certain age (this varies between birth centres, so it is worth checking with the centre you are considering).
- If the birth centre is stand-alone (meaning not attached to a major hospital), travel time to a hospital in an emergency can be up to 90 minutes (as allowed by law). This is the maximum travel time allowed and is considered to be a safe distance, but it should be considered when making a decision.
Labouring and giving birth in a birth centre can be a rewarding and positive experience if those values represented by birth centres align with your own. When making your decision you should visit several birth centres and ask as many questions as you can. Learning as much as you can about the setting you may give birth in will empower you to make the best decision for you and your family.