Freestanding Birth Centers

When I was pregnant with my first and reading "What to Expect When You're Expecting" about hospitals, birth centers, and home births, I thought that a birth center was a kind of nice middle ground between hospitals and home births. I thought it was some kind of detached labor and delivery ward, like what you'd have at a hospital, just not attached to a hospital.

It is not.

First of all, and this is very important to understand, there are two kinds of birth centers. The first type is the kind that I originally thought they all were: they are attached to hospitals, and are staffed with licensed, nurse midwives. As this post explains, "If at any time during your pregnancy or labor complications arise, your care would shift to that of an obstetrician at the same birth center or hospital." Medical technology is available, everyone has insurance, and there are regulations and oversight.

The other type of birth center is a freestanding birth center, which is not directly overseen by a hospital. Choosing to give birth at a freestanding birth center is, in the words of Sara, whose son Magnus died at a birth center, choosing "a home birth in someone else's 'home.'" Freestanding birth centers are not some kind of detached labor and delivery wing. They do not have doctors. They do not have the equipment you would have at a hospital. They have the same midwives that deliver babies at home births.

The excellent website Safer Midwifery for Michigan has a good post about birth centers called What We're Seeking: Defining "Birth Center." In it, they explain: "Freestanding birth centers do not have emergency medical equipment beyond oxygen.  They cannot intubate or give medications that would be used in a resuscitation circumstance. They do not use Electronic Fetal Heart Monitoring, instead using intermittent Doppler assessments. Midwives working at a freestanding birth center may or may not be licensed as individual, may or may not carry insurance, and may or may not be trained in NRP (Neonatal Resuscitation Program). There is no requirement for any midwife at a birth center to have a license. The bottom line is that in the event of an emergency, they are under-equipped for life saving measures."

Babies born at freestanding birth centers are more than three times more likely to have a 5-minute Apgar score of 0 (no signs of life) than those born at a hospital. They are almost twice as likely to have seizures than those born at the hospital. And worst of all, babies born at freestanding birth centers are twice as likely to die than those at the hospital.