What to Expect When You Give Birth at a Birthing Center

What to Expect When Using a Birth Center

I chose to give birth at a birth center rather than the hospital or a home birth for both of my children. I knew that I didn’t want to give birth in a hospital because I have had some negative experiences in hospitals and knew that I wouldn’t be comfortable to have my children in one.  And, I wanted to be able to eat, drink, and move around during labor. My mom had very long labors, so I wanted to be able to move around to get things going as much as possible in the event of a long labor.

With my first birth, my husband and I decided that although we didn’t want a hospital birth, we weren’t comfortable enough to have a home birth. We wanted to be somewhere closer to the hospital in case we needed to transfer. We also wanted the mess of birth to be somewhere else to clean up rather than in our home.

So, off to the birth center we went. We couldn’t have had a more amazing and beautiful experience there. That’s why when we got pregnant again, we decided to go back.

I toyed with the idea of a home birth for my second and even interviewed a Homebirth midwife. But, we were adding onto our house at the time and I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable enough to be giving birth in the middle of the mess of construction. I’m glad I went with my gut because our kitchen was still torn apart for a couple of months after our son was born. It was kinda nice to escape all of that and go to the birth center to relax and give birth.

Now that I’ve had two babies at a birth center, there are several things that I tell pregnant mommas to expect when thinking of giving birth at a birth center.

*disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and the info in this post is my own opinion and advice based on my own experience. You’ll want to check with your doctor or midwife if you have questions.

1) You’re free to move around

Call me crazy for not wanting the epidural, but I was not a fan of the idea of being confined to a table, unable to move around during labor.

I wanted the freedom to walk the halls, pace, change positions, and dance! (Read about my epic dance party during my first birth). Giving birth at a birth center gave me the freedom to do just that.

I also did not want to be stuck with an IV, even if I could move around with it. It just did not sound pleasant. Which brings me to my next point…

2) You’re free  to eat and drink

One of the reasons you have to have an IV during labor at a hospital is because they won’t let you eat or drink during labor. But, they need to keep you hydrated so in goes the IV.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I absolutely hate IVs! I’ve had too many bad experiences in hospitals where I didn’t even need an IV but had them pushed on me. Not to mention I get terrible bruising from them. It’s just no fun.

At the birth center, I loved being able to drink my labor-aid electrolyte drink and snack on healthy, protein-packed treats like yogurt and cheese sticks during labor.

I heard stories from friends who birthed in the hospital and they talked about being so hungry that they felt weak. I didn’t want that.

But, I’ve also heard stories of women sneaking snacks into their labor and delivery room at the hospital (not that I advise that at all!).

In the end, it totally depends on what the momma wants for her birth. I’m a control freak so I wanted my own food and drinks during labor… and no IV for me!

3) You can give birth in a tub (if you want)

I don’t know why, but when I dreamed about my ideal birth when I was pregnant with my first, I always pictured a water birth. Maybe I had heard of it and the thought just sounded nice. Your baby swimming out of the womb before coming up to your chest.

It’s dreamy.

When you think about it, it does seem like a smooth transition to the world for a newborn. They’re surrounded by amniotic fluid in the womb, so spending some time in the water before coming up for air might feel good to a baby.

Here in Montana, hospital births do not allow you to have a water birth. Some labor rooms have a run that you can get in during labor, but they require you to get out once you start pushing.

I didn’t want that.

A water birth just sounded so nice. And clean! You have your baby, hop out when you’re ready, and the blood all just drains away. Simple really.

Although I left my birth plan open-ended and wanted to be in whatever position felt right for birth, I still wanted the option of a water birth. I’m glad I went with my gut because in the moment a water birth is what felt right.

If a water birth sounds amazing to you, then I encourage you to both at a place that Ives that option if at all possible.

4) Expect every luxury of the hospital (except the epidural)

When I first told my parents that we were planning to birth at the birthing center, my dad’s first reaction was “but what if you hemorrhage?”

I understand his concern and that he was just trying to make sure the baby and I would be ok. But, I can understand how pregnant women might be afraid to birth at a birthing center if the people in their lives are spreading fear because of misconceptions.

The next week at my birth center appointment, I brought this up to my midwife. She explained that birth centers can do everything that hospitals can in the case of hemorrhage. Not many people understand this.

In my second birth, I didn’t exactly hemorrhage, but there was a hush of blood right after my baby came out. The midwife gave me a routine shot of Pitocin which is exactly what the hospital would have done had I given birth there.

When you are at a birth center, they are usually equipped with everything shy of equipment needed in the event of a C-section. So, if you’re not planning on having a C-section and are fine with the thought of transferring if a C-section is needed, then it is perfectly safe to give birth at a birth center. The only caveat being that you can’t get an epidural.

5) Expect to be treated like a goddess

Renown midwife Ina May Gaskin wrote, “if a woman doesn’t feel like a goddess during labor then someone isn’t treating her right.” At every turn during labor, I felt so pampered and safe with my birth center team.

Even when they told me I had to do something (like get up and move to get things going or do the Hibiclens wash), they were so gentle with me that I never felt like I was being coerced or controlled into doing something I didn’t want to do.

They respected my birth plan and if things came up, they would always ask me before doing any procedure. For instance, they asked my husband if he wanted to cut the cord and asked before doing any internal exams to check my progress or to break my water.

I’m sure this isn’t always the case for every birth center. And, I’m sure there are some amazing birth teams, doctors, and staff at hospitals who treat laboring women like the goddesses they are. But, I’m just sharing with you my experience at a birthing center (twice).

Now that I’ve shared my reasons for choosing a birthing center, let me just say that a birth center isn’t for everyone! There is no shame in choosing a different birth facility.

Everyone is different and I am so thankful that I live in a place (and time in history) where there are options and knowledgeable doctors and midwives who can help pregnant women make the best choices.

My reasons for choosing a birth center above also only applied to me because I had two low-risk pregnancies and labors. Some states, mine, for instance, doesn’t allow birth centers to deliver twin or breech births. Some states may not allow VBACs at a birth center.

Whether or not you are a good candidate for a birth center delivery really can depend on your situation and your state’s regulations. You can interview a birth center, ask questions, and ultimately go with your gut. No matter where you choose to give birth, I pray that you have an empowering birth experience!

If a woman doesn’t feel like a goddess during labor then someone isn’t treating her right -Ina May Gaskin

Where did you give birth and why did you choose that location? I’d love to hear some positive hospital or home birth stories as well!

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Brooke resides in Montana with her husband and two kiddos. She uses her passion for writing along with her degree in Spanish Education and English Literature to write about her life experiences. She has been published on blogs such as Scary Mommy and also in Chicken Soup for the Soul.

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