Congratulations on your pregnancy! This is a wonderful time of change; it is also a time to start making some big decisions, such as where to have your baby. Although many women give birth in hospitals, an increasing number of women are choosing an alternative birthing experience, and elect to give birth at a birthing center or in their own home. The services of midwives and doulas are experiencing increasing popularity over the services of an OB in creating a memorable, empowering, and personalized birth experience. Pros and cons exist for each choice, and should be considered in accordance to the type of birth and postpartum experience you desire for yourself and your baby.
Hospitals offer easy access to the operating room in the event of rare, but life threatening, labor complications, as well as to a wide variety of pain medications. On the negative side however, OBs are much more likely to recommend unnecessary medical interventions, including C-sections. Many different medical professionals will surround you in a hospital, and this has both positive and negative influences on your birthing environment. If you don’t mind experiencing a revolving door of medical professionals, great! If that doesn’t appeal to you, you’ll need to mentally prepare yourself for the hustle and bustle that comes with giving birth in a hospital. If you have a long labor, you may also experience one or two staff shift changes, each one bringing with it new faces and, possibly, new opinions about how your labor should be progressing.
Most hospitals have protocols regarding who is allowed to attend the birth; for example, some hospitals only allow family and do not allow doulas or midwives. Hospitals may also restrict what items a woman is allowed to bring with her into the hospital. Some hospitals may restrict birthing positions, prohibit a woman from walking while in labor or restrict what food (usually none) and liquids she can consume during labor. It’s always a good idea to attend a hospital’s maternity ward tour to see the labor and delivery rooms as well as the recovery rooms to gain a sense of whether or not you like the facilities and its staff.
A birth center exists as an alternative to hospitals, and often offers a greater variety of choices for the expectant mother. For example, birth centers often offer a water birth option, where a woman gives birth while in a pool of warm water. Typically, birth center staff midwives are open to a variety of birthing positions, and allow laboring women to direct the birthing process. The midwives are also friendlier to natural interventions such as acupressure, nipple stimulation or even sex for advancing a stalled labor and will work with the mother to create the birthing experience she envisions. In the event of complications, certified birth centers carry emergency equipment and medical supplies, equivalent to what is found in a typical labor and delivery suite in a hospital and should have agreements at one or more local hospitals in the event of a transfer.
Lately, more and more American women are choosing to give birth in the comfort of their own homes. After retaining the services of a midwife and a doula, women bring their babies into the world in a familiar and peaceful environment. Home births are becoming more popular for their intimacy and comforting atmosphere as labor can be an intense process, and many women feel less stress in their own homes. However, it’s important to have a trained professional present, one who brings emergency equipment and medical supplies with her, so she may recognize any complications and act accordingly; a well-trained midwife will be able to recognize special circumstances and try to correct them or recommend transport to a hospital as the health of the mother and baby is always her primary concern.
Where you give birth is up to you, and it can be a huge decision. Hospitals provide access to the operating room if a rare but serious complication should occur, but come with the most restrictions regarding how you birth. Hospital staff may also recommend unnecessary medical interventions and formula supplementation, both undesirable for anyone who wants a normal birth and a good breastfeeding relationship with her baby. Birthing centers provide women with more choices, including water births, but may be harder to find. Finally, giving birth at home, in a familiar environment allows women to have the greatest control in having a positive birth experience; however, it is important to retain the services of a certified professional midwife or nurse midwife to attend the birth. These knowledgeable professionals act as key support systems for a laboring mother and can help her give birth naturally with minimal intervention while still providing all the standard emergency medical equipment and supplies available at a birth center or labor and delivery room in a hospital. The only things they don’t bring are the operating rooms and the doctors.
For more information regarding childbirth options, consider visiting one of these websites:
Kathryn is a baby-wearing, cloth diapering, DIY mom to her quickly growing and pretty cute toddler. When she isn't researching and writing about natural approaches to pregnancy and parenting, she's acting out her favorite children's books or singing off-key made-up songs.