My first birth experience was attended by an OB in a hospital.
My second birth experience was attended by a midwife in a birth center.
The two experiences were black-and-white; night-and-day.
There were countless differences between the hospital and the birth center, but perhaps the most significant difference was that the hospital treated me as a patient and the birth center treated me as a person.
The hospital was sterile, unfeeling. I was “sick” and they were “treating” me – in assembly line fashion.
The birth center was peaceful, homey, somehow familiar. I was honored as a woman – as a person. My input mattered. I mattered. My baby mattered.
The experiences were so contrastive, in fact, that it was hard to narrow down the differences to the below table.
It is, of course, important to note that ALL hospitals don’t follow the guidelines on the left and ALL birth centers don’t fit neatly into the column on the right. That said, I do believe that the table accurately depicts the current “state of affairs” at MOST hospitals and MOST birth centers.
IVs are routinely given when admitted.
IVs are available, but rarely used.
A hospital gown is provided when you are admitted and it is expected that you will wear it.
You arrive in your own clothes, labor in your own clothes, depart in your own clothes.
You are immediately “hooked up” when you are admitted. Continuous Fetal Monitoring is the standard.
You are free to walk about, squat, get in the tub, etc. Without wires. Intermittent Fetal Monitoring is the standard.
Nurses check you for dilation frequently.
The midwife checks you upon arrival and as needed, but not on a schedule.
No eating or drinking is allowed.
Eating and drinking is permissible.
When delivery is imminent, you are expected to be on the bed in a reclining or semi-upright position on your back.
You are free to deliver anywhere…in any position. On your hands and knees. In the bathtub. Squatting over the toilet. Take your pick.
Pushing is often “doctor-led.” Doctors count and give directions – “1,2,3…PUSH!”
The timing and intensity of pushes is left up to the mama and her body, with gentle guidance from the midwife.
Babies are often whisked away to the nursery for tests.
Mama & baby stay together after the birth. All exams are done in the room – often while mama is holding or breastfeeding the baby.
People (the OB, the anesthesiologist, the nurse, the intern, the dietician, the clean-up crew, etc.) walk in and out of your room constantly. During labor and while you are recovering.
The only people present while you are laboring are the nurse and midwife. Post-delivery, you are given privacy to rest and enjoy the time with your new baby.
The beds in the rooms are super skinny and designed for one person.
The beds in the rooms are bigger and designed for the whole family (or mama AND baby, at the very least).
24 hour minimum stay is required.
4 hour minimum stay (varies by individual birth center). 8 hours is the norm.
That’s just for starters. There were other differences too. Tiny things that mattered in a huge way:
- The calming presence of normally-dressed nurses (no scrubs and masks and latex gloves).
- The fact that my husband was able to be so involved in the birthing process…he practically delivered the baby and he cut the cord (after it stopped pulsing – there was no rush…no fear).
- The way that we were asked if we wanted to do the Vitamin K shot and the antibiotics in the baby’s eyes (the hospital staff did both procedures without asking at my older daughter’s birth).
If your situation necessitates that you have a C-section or if have other medical complications that put you in to a “high-risk” category, then a hospital might be the right choice for you (thank goodness for life-saving medical technologies!). But if, in your heart of hearts, you want a drug-free childbirth (or are considering that option), I urge you to consider a birth center or home birth. At the very least, it would behoove you to explore your options thoroughly and to ask about what interventions are routine at your place of birth.
For more information about birth centers, see my previous article: Birth Centers 101.
You can also visit the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC) website to find a birth center near you.
YOUR TURN: Where did you give birth and were you happy with the experience? Why or why not? What would your “ideal” birth experience/locale be like?
Image Credits: 1st photo taken from Abington Memorial Hospital (Abington, PA), 2nd photo taken from Bella Vie Gentle Birth Center (Salem, OR).