What’s a Birth Center?

As we contemplate the upcoming opening of our west valley birth center, I’m sure you must have lots of questions!

The concept of the freestanding birth center is not new. Birth centers were established in the 1970s as an alternative to restrictive hospital labor units.  At that point in our history, women were not educated about birth, labor, medications, etc.  Most women went to the same OB/GYN that their own mother went to. Husbands and other family were not allowed in traditional delivery rooms.  Women were given powerful narcotics and amnesiacs in labor that made them forget the entire birth process.  These drugs made them so crazy that they were literally tied to the delivery table with leather straps!  Forceps and episiotomy were routine interventions. Babies were whisked off to a nursery before mothers were even allowed to caress them. Breastfeeding was discouraged. Formula was king!  All babies were kept in the nursery except for routine feeding times every 4 hours. If baby was hungry before that time, he or she wailed miserably without comfort. 

The Maternity Center Association in New York was one of the first groups to call for a change in birth culture.  They opened the Childbearing Center in 1975.  This was a model for birth centers to come.  In the 1980s much work continued to publish studies, establish guidelines for safe care and unite birth center proponents across the country.

I have had the unique privilege to be part of the birth center movement over many years now.  My first daughter was born in a freestanding birth center in Michigan. I have worked in birth centers for a total of 22 years, both as a nurse and a nurse midwife.  I was a site visitor for the Commission for Accreditation of Birth Centers, as well as a Commissioner for the same group for 18 years. I have seen first-hand how birth centers nurture the growth of women and their families.

Women across the country have had their awareness of normal birth awakened by the birth center trend. The internet has helped this grow even more, as women seek alternatives and control over their own birth experiences.

Enter 2019. Many women now search the internet for references for care providers, birth places, birth education and social media groups dedicated to birth.  We now have an incredible opportunity to provide women the very best in safe and individualized care.  Birth centers are poised to offer many women the type of options they seek.

The hallmarks of a birth center include the following:

  • Midwifery model of care throughout the life cycle
  • Family-centered care. Every member of the family is equally important 
  • A strong education component for women and families
  • Respect and honor for the desires of the childbearing family
  • Availability of options such as water birth, unmedicated birth, and as few interventions as possible
  • Collaboration with the greater health care system so that, if needed, a transfer of care can be accomplished smoothly and efficiently
  • Strong support of exclusive breastfeeding
  • Referral to, or provision of other services such as education, lactation consultation, pediatrics, GYN care, massage, chiropractic and others
  • Recognition of women’s ability to successfully give birth to their babies
  • Ongoing support though the postpartum period and beyond
  • Family planning and GYN services
  • All-around excellence and high quality
  • NOT a hospital labor and delivery area that calls itself a birth center!

There are now many amazing birth centers continuing the work set out in 1975!  No two are the same, each unique, but with the same commitment to excellence of care to all women! 

Now we are ready to continue this vital work!