Where do you want to bring your baby into the world? Depending on where you live, you may have options: A hospital, a birth center, or even at home.
Before we explore these three options, let’s look at why, for some women, a hospital birth is the safest option.
A hospital birth is safest for you if:
- You have health problems or a high-risk pregnancy
- You go into labor earlier than 37 weeks or later than 42 weeks
- The baby is positioned sideways or feet-first
- You are carrying multiples
- You have a history of C-section or labor and delivery complications
If none of those apply to you, read on to learn about the differences between giving birth at a hospital, birth center, or at home.
Most babies are delivered in hospitals by an ob-gyn or midwife, and afterwards they and their mamas are looked after by nurses and other medical staff.
Why a Hospital Birth Might be Appealing
At a hospital you have access to pain medication (like an epidural) and immediate medical attention in case of emergency. Most hospitals provide useful baby items that you can take home, like blankets, infant shirts and diapers. Many also have lactation consultants on site who can help you establish breastfeeding if that’s how you plan to feed your little one.
Things to Keep in Mind
While certain cases require medical interventions for a safe birth, you may feel concerned about unnecessary interventions. It’s a good idea to learn and understand why you might need interventions such as continuous fetal monitoring, IVs, labor-inducing medication, and C-section.
Other possible downsides to a hospital birth are being separated from your baby at times, and having to spend the night.
Choosing a Hospital
If you live in an area with more than one hospital, you may be able to hospital-shop. Not all hospitals approach labor and delivery the same way, and the differences may matter to you. You might even end up switching your doctor or midwife to be able to give birth at the hospital of your choice.
If you have hospital options, consider the key questions below.
Key Questions to Consider When Choosing a Hospital
- Is it covered by your healthcare plan?
- How far is it from your home?
- Does the environment feel like a comfortable and supportive place to give birth?
- As you tour the facility, does it seem organized and well-run?
- What is the nurse-to-patient ratio?
- Would you have the option to stay in a private room? If so, would it be an additional cost?
- Who is allowed in the delivery room with you?
- What are the visitation policies?
- Is the hospital philosophy in line with your birth philosophy?
- What is the C-section rate for low-risk pregnancies?
- If you have a high-risk pregnancy, does the hospital have a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) in case your baby needs special care?
- Will your baby be away from you? If so, for how long?
At a birth center, babies are delivered by a midwife in a cozy, home-like environment. You can think of it as a middle ground between a hospital birth and a home birth. Some birth centers are inside of or attached to hospitals, and others are independent.
Why a Birth Center Might be Appealing
A birth center may be a good fit if you wish to give birth naturally in a home-like environment with professional staff, where you can move freely and receive minimal intervention. In most cases, you can return home from a birth center shortly after delivering your baby.
Things to Keep in Mind
At a birth center you won’t have access to pain management like an epidural. Unless it’s inside of or attached to a hospital, you may need to be transported to one if complications arise.
While most babies are born at hospitals or birth centers, home births are on the rise.
Why a Home Birth Might be Appealing
A home birth may be a good fit if you want to deliver your baby in a familiar environment where you can fully control the atmosphere. Like at a birth center, you’re free to move around with minimal intervention. For some, home births are aligned with cultural or religious practices.
Things to Keep in Mind
Although more and more women are advocating for the benefits of home birth, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Academy of Pediatrics, and World Health Organization all state that home births are associated with a higher risk of complications (including infant death) —especially for women giving birth for the first time. That said, they also acknowledge that every woman has a right to make an informed decision, and offer these guidelines for making a home birth as safe as possible:
Only consider a home birth if –
- You are healthy and have a low-risk pregnancy
- The birth can be attended by a midwife whose education and licensure meets International Confederation of Midwives’ Global Standards for Midwifery Education, or a licensed ob-gyn.
- You have access to timely transportation to a hospital if needed
Once you decide where to give birth, be sure to check off other important pre-baby tasks. You can find a list of key things to do here.