This week is National Birth Center Week. Traditionally, a birth center is defined as a homelike setting for labor and delivery of newborns, where the parents can make decisions about their experience with few interventions and procedures.
Birth centers and hospital maternity wards have the same purpose – delivering healthy babies. Often, they offer different services to achieve that purpose, although there are similarities. In some hospital maternity wards nowadays, for instance, there are things that might be more closely associated with a birth center, such as birthing balls, relaxation aids, massage treatments, and baths or showers to promote a calmer setting. Some laboring couples choose hypnotism, visualization and imagery to relieve pain or anxiety, and in many cases these can be provided in both birth centers and hospitals.
When a pregnancy occurs, it is the woman who chooses her obstetrician or midwife to provide her prenatal care. The pregnant couple should work closely with their provider early on and develop a plan of care. As expecting parents, make your wishes known.
Where you choose to give birth is one of the most important decisions to make before delivery. There are maternity classes in the community offered to expecting couples to educate them about the birthing process, and the services that are available at different sites.
One important consideration is that birth centers were designed for low risk mothers and healthy babies. Because a birth center may not be able to meet medical needs, the birthing experience is viewed and managed as a healthy one, not as a medical process. For this reason, birth centers are not an option for women at risk.
Hospital maternity wards also view the pregnant woman and her pending delivery as a normal healthy event unless a situation proves it to be more than that. In those instances, hospitals have physicians, as well as medications that are not available in birth centers. Alternatives to pain medication are encouraged, but in the event that medication is desired, hospitals are able to provide that service.
While some hospitals have birth centers within their own facilities, Mount Nittany Medical Center does not. What we do have is the Mother-Baby Unit on the fourth floor. By learning about our Mother-Baby Unit, we can compare birth centers and hospital maternity wards.
Birth Centers do not insist on routine or unnecessary interventions and neither do we at Mount Nittany. We do only what is necessary in ensuring a healthy outcome.
Birthing centers encourage freedom of movement with position changes during labor and delivery. At the hospital we do also. We allow patients to wear their own clothing. Support persons may bring in their own food and drink. We encourage family and friends to support the laboring woman and visitors to respect the wishes and the patient.
As is the case in most birth centers, the expecting parents in the Mother-Baby Unit choose who they wish to be present at the time of birth. After birth, we encourage breastfeeding and bonding.
Other services the Medical Center offers include:
- rooming in, although there is a nursery for parents who need to take time for themselves
- a nesting room for parents, in the event that the infant needs to stay after the mother has been discharged
- a learning record to aid in educating the parents in the care of the newborn
We are here to support the laboring woman and her partner. We are comparable to a birthing center in many ways. We hope the expecting parents feel they have a sense of control over their labor and delivery. We respect their opinions, and we honor written birth plans within our scope of practice and policies.
Ultimately, those at both birth centers and hospital maternity wards desire an uncomplicated and safe delivery, and we are there to help achieve that. We hope that all parents’ labor and delivery experiences, as well as their recovery and postpartum time, are memorable events, stress-free and educational.
Amy Frantz is a registered nurse on the Mother-Baby Unit at Mount Nittany Medical Center.