Birthing Centers Versus Hospitals, Explained

Every mother-to-be has a vision of what they want their delivery to look like. Some would prefer to deliver their newborns with as little medical intervention as possible. Others like the reassurance that pain relief and emergency medical intervention are available at a moment’s notice. And as long as mothers and babies are safe during the delivery process, there is no one right answer to what is best when it comes to where to deliver. But for those mothers who are debating between a birthing center and a hospital, it is important to know the differences between the two so that women get the delivery they are envisioned.


The key to having a stress-free delivery is to have women’s needs met during labor. This means that those who are there to aid in the delivery of babies have like-minded philosophies and are not trying to deter those in labor from veering from their birth plans.

RELATED: Home, Hospital, Or Birthing Center: 15 Things To Help Mom Decide

In order to find this, pregnant women need to do their research beforehand to determine where the right place is for them to deliver their babies, which may start taking place months before babies are due.

Here are the differences between birthing centers and hospitals.

What Is A Birthing Center?

what a birthing center is
via Family Centered Birth

When women want as natural a childbirth as possible, selecting a birthing center is a great option for their delivery.

According to What To Expect, a birthing center is a “low-tech birthing option” for expecting women. This does not mean that there are no trained medical staff to help with the delivery process. In fact, midwives are there every step of the way to ensure the labor and delivery move forward as planned. All of this is done in a room designed to give women a feeling of being in the comfort of their own home when delivering their babies.

Women who deliver in birthing centers are also able to walk around as they please, per the publication. This means that they can find the most comfortable positions to deal with contractions without having to worry about being strapped to wires during delivery.

And unlike hospitals that frown upon women eating after contractions have begun, mothers-to-be are allowed to eat at any time during labor at a birthing center, except when they are pushing actively.

What Is A Hospital Birth Center?

hospital birth center(1)
via Flickr/Army Medicine

A hospital birthing center is much like what women would expect from the name. Hospital birth centers are not as luxurious as birthing centers but for those who prefer an OB-GYN to deliver their babies, this is the route to go.

According to Pregnancy By Design, the majority of women choose to give birth in a hospital birth center. This is because there is peace of mind should complications arise. And because the goal of doctors and supporting medical staff is “preventing, diagnosing, and treating complications” as soon as they arise, doctors and mothers-to-be are on the same page when it comes to care.

However, per the publication, not all hospitals follow the same protocols. As such, women should look into the rate of C-section deliveries that occur at hospitals, whether hospitals are baby-friendly or mom-friendly, and if their current provider has privileges at the hospital of choice. It is important that birth plans can be respected. And if they cannot, then this needs to be known before women are in the throes of labor and delivery.

Amenities At A Birthing Center

amenities at birthing center
via Family Centered Birth

Birthing centers are designed to make those expecting feel like they are in their own home. As such, there are amenities that reflect this.

According to Boca & Terrysome of the amenities that parents-to-be can expect to find at a birthing center include:

  • Toxic-free environment
  • Ability to play music in the room
  • Adjustable lighting
  • Large beds
  • Couches for family
  • Several options to find comfortable positions to have contractions
  • Oversized showers
  • Spa tubs
  • Private room
  • Kitchens in some instances

For those who like the idea of ​​a stand-alone facility with all of the comforts of home, a birthing center may be a good option for delivery.

Amenities At A Hospital Birth Center

amenities at hospital
via Flickr/UMHealthSystem

Depending upon the hospital, there are different amenities that are available during the delivery process.

According to KidsHealth, in many instances, women give birth in a private room. Then when mothers and babies are stable, they are moved to a semi-private room, per most insurance plans.

Some insurance plans will cover private rooms, however. And when this happens, mothers have a hospital bed to recover in, potentially with a shower to clean up in as well.

Per the publication, some hospitals are moving toward a model of “family-centered care.” This means that women give birth and recover in the same private room. And unlike the sterile hospital feel, these rooms are more soothing in nature and feel more like home than the hospital delivery rooms of days past.

Pain Management Options

via Unsplash/Jimmy Conover

Perhaps the biggest difference between a birthing center and a hospital birth center is the pain management and emergency services available at the facilities.

Birthing centers

According to HealthPartners, women go to birthing centers because they do not want help with the delivery process. They want to have their babies without using an epidural, which is good, considering they are not an option at birth centers. Instead, per the publication, things like massage therapy, acupuncture, nitrous oxide, and the like are used for pain management instead.

And if women need to have an emergency C-section, this is not something that can be performed at a birthing center. They will need to be moved to a hospital for the procedure.


Women who want a natural birth can do so at hospitals. However, if they decide that the pain becomes too great while in labor, there is an option for an epidural.

And for those women who are determined to have a high-risk pregnancy, a hospital is a better option, according to HealthPartners. This is because while birthing centers do have some medical equipment on hand, they are not trained to handle more complicated cases. And because of this, things like high blood pressure, diabetes, and the like cannot be properly monitored.

Source: What To Expect, Pregnancy By Design, Boca & Terry, KidsHealth, HealthPartners

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