All About Birth Centers

Free-standing birth centers are sprouting up all over the nation as women and their families seek safe alternatives for comprehensive care throughout pregnancy and childbirth. Birth centers can help you achieve an empowering pregnancy and birth experience that respects your strength, vulnerability and instinctual wisdom. 

What is a free-standing birth center?
The American Association of Birth Centers defines a birth center as follows: 

  • The birth center is a home-like facility existing within a healthcare system with a program of care designed in the wellness model of pregnancy and birth.
  • Birth centers are guided by principles of prevention, sensitivity, safety, appropriate medical intervention, and cost effectiveness.
  • Birth centers provide family-centered care for healthy women before, during, and after normal pregnancy, labor, and birth.

Some hospitals may also use the term "birth center" or "birthing center" for their labor and delivery unit. Hospital "birthing centers" are generally still subject to the hospital policies and procedures, for example that all mothers be continuously monitored, they may not be allowed food and drink, or may be limited in their choice of birthing positions or locations. By contrast, a free-standing birth center is separate from a hospital and is not subject to the hospital's policies and procedures, and generally is governed by a separate set of state and/or agency regulations. In Colorado, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulates and licenses birth centers and has a set of regulations specific to free-standing birth centers. 

Denver Center for Birth and Wellness is a state-licensed, free-standing birth center. 

What about safety?
Birth centers have been shown to be a safe option for low-risk, healthy women, offering the comfort and reduced stress of a home-like environment with the benefits of a well-equipped health facility. The National Birth Center Study II, published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health has shown that birth centers have excellent outcomes for mothers and babies, with a significantly lower rate of cesarean sections. The following statistics are extracted from that study, which is nicely summarized in this article.

Among women intending to birth in birth centers: 

  • 94% of women admitted in labor achieved a vaginal birth indicating a 6% c-section rate vs. the national average of 26% for low-risk women;
  • Less than 1% of women were transferred for emergent reasons during labor;
  • Less than .5% transferred for emergent reasons for mother or baby after birth; and
  • There were 0 maternal deaths and most cases of postpartum hemorrhage were handled safely in the birth center with no transfer needed 

Among women who gave birth in hospitals:

  •  Approximately 85% are considered low-risk and eligible for care at a birth center;
  • 87% who labor in hospitals undergo continuous electronic fetal monitoring;
  • 80% receive intravenous fluids;
  • 47% have labor artificially accelerated with medications;
  • 43% of first-time moms have labor artificially induced;
  • 60% of women giving birth in hospitals are not allowed to eat or drink;  
  • 76% are restricted to bed; and
  • 92% give birth lying on their backs.

There is strong evidence that routine use of these practices, when carried out without medical indications, has few benefits and often introduces potential risks for healthy mothers and babies. 

Explore more questions related to safety in our FAQ's

How is the birth center model different? 
The birth center model honors pregnancy and childbirth as healthy, normal life events for the majority of women and babies. Mamas are supported with continuous, supportive care throughout their pregnancy and during labor. Care providers utilize interventions only when medically necessary. 

There is a commitment to family centered care with you as the primary decision-maker about your birth and body. Leading up to your labor you have ample time during prenatal appointments to develop a relationship with your Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) and develop a birth plan. This involves preparing both mentally and physically for your birth with the support of your birth team. While in labor, if you need to move about, spend time in the tub, eat, change positions, invite loved ones into the birthing room (or ask them to leave), you will be honored in your choices. You will be supported with a team of midwives, birth assistants, and nurses to empower and attend to your needs, while keeping watch for any indications outside the realm of wellness.

How will birth center care impact my baby?
A comprehensive study, Outcomes of care in birth centers, conducted by Colombia University concluded that birth centers have excellent outcomes for babies. Beyond a healthy delivery, you and baby receive breastfeeding support, education before birth to prepare your family, and post-natal care in person or over the phone once you return to your home. Anecdotally, we hear from pediatricians that they love birth center babies. They tend to gain their weight back quickly and present with few health concerns in their early infancy. 

More questions ?
Check out the FAQ page for answers to all of these questions. Or feel free to Contact Us, we would love to talk with you about your vision, needs and concerns on your birth year journey.