Home » Blog » Labor and Birth » Birth Center vs Home Birth: Similarities and Differences

Birth Center vs Home Birth: Similarities and Differences

Outside of a hospital, you have two options for birth location: birth center or home. So how do they compare? In this blog post, find out what each is like, how much they cost, options for pain management at each, and who can be there.

woman in birth pool at home

This post may contain affiliate links to products. I receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you. Read my full disclaimer here.

While I was pregnant with my first daughter, I distinctly remember being asked at least once, “So which hospital are you going to?”

In America 98% of women give birth in a hospital, so I get why the question was asked that way. But the hospital isn’t the only option! 

I had already chosen to give birth at home so I calmly explained that.

It didn’t upset me, but I wish that instead of assuming, we could ask a more open question: “So where are you giving birth?”

Women need to know they have options and they need the space to make the choice they feel is right for them. I know I can’t change the way the entire country views birth, but I can help you, my readers, know what your options are.

I’ve already written about hospitals versus birth centers. Today I want to help you understand the similarities and differences between a birth center and a home birth.

Where you give birth matters!

So let’s dive in.

The 3 Cs of Choosing a Birth Place

First of all, if you haven’t read Birth Center vs Hospital: What They’re Like and Factors to Consider, let’s go over the 3 Cs of choosing a birth place. They aren’t the only elements to take into account, but they help establish a good foundation.

Creed

Creed is the philosophy of birth the care providers have at any given location. Is birth viewed as a medical event? or is it seen as a natural process that should be left alone?

Creed affects the way doctors and midwives manage labor, the way they treat the mother, and how they do things immediately after the baby is born, including prioritizing (or not prioritizing) breastfeeding and bonding.

This is why who you give birth with is so important – and so connected to where.

Convenience

There is an element of convenience to choosing certain birth places over others. This includes driving time, filling out paperwork, and packing bags.

Cost

Of course, different places also have different price tags. And those prices can vary drastically. Insurance plays a role in cost, too, covering some things and not covering others.

What is a Birth Center Like?

First let’s talk about birth centers. We’ll go over the 3 Cs then some other important factors.

The 3 Cs: Birth Center

What is the creed, convenience, and cost of a birth center?

Creed

Your care provider at a birth center will be one or more midwives. Midwives see birth as a natural, healthy process that is most effective when left alone. They will usually take a hands-off approach and let you manage labor however your body directs, for as long as it takes.

Convenience

When it comes to convenience, birth centers do well in some areas and not as well in others. You’ll have to drive to a birth center while in labor. I haven’t experienced that but I hear it can be quite uncomfortable.

While every birth requires some paperwork, the nice thing about being cared for by midwives is that many midwives will have you fill out your paperwork ahead of time, in the final weeks of pregnancy. That way, you don’t have to worry about legalities or logistics in the middle of labor.

Since you won’t be at home, you’ll need to pack bags to bring to a birth center. You’ll want a bag for you, your husband or partner, and the baby. You may even need an extra bag for things you want for labor, like lights, oil diffusers, affirmation cards, or whatever else you’d like.

Birth centers will provide pads and underwear for you, but they may or may not provide diapers, wipes, or other supplies for your baby. Make sure to ask your birth center what they normally provide so you can bring what you need.

Cost

Generally, birth center births cost anywhere from about $2,000 to $7,000 (or more, sometimes, if you don’t have insurance). Many accept insurance, though some may not.

That cost will include prenatal and postpartum care, so you’re not going to have to add any extra on for that, which is nice.

Some birth centers have their own testing lab and many have sonographers on staff (people who do ultrasounds), so those prenatal costs may or may not be included in your fee.

Pain Management: Birth Center

Birth centers do not offer traditional medical methods of pain management, like epidurals or opioid painkillers. Some may have nitrous oxide (laughing gas) for you to use if you’d like. 

For the most part, though, your pain management at a birth center will be all natural.

Your midwives and other birth attendants will help you to use whatever natural coping methods you choose, including warm baths or showers, massage, relaxation techniques, affirmations and other words, and more.

Your pain management doesn’t just have to start when labor does, though. For some suggestions on how to change your mindset about pain in labor, check out Is Childbirth Painful? (The Answer Might Surprise You).

Who’s There: Birth Center

As we already covered, your care provider at a birth center will be one or more midwives. And since birth centers usually take only a few births at a time, your midwife will likely be with you throughout all of labor (once you leave home).

Depending on the birth center, you might also be cared for by other birth assistants. If you go to the birth center for your prenatal care, you will likely know all of the midwives and assistants by the time you give birth, so no one will be a stranger.

Most birth centers are pretty open to whoever else you want at your birth, too. You will likely be able to bring your husband, your mom, your kids, friends, other family, a doula, or anyone else. Make sure to ask your birth center if they have a limit on how many people you can bring.

It’s worth pointing out here that there likely will be other people in nearby rooms while you are in labor if you are at a birth center. Other women will be coming for appointments and there may even be another woman in labor, if your birth center has two separate birthing areas.

You will still have privacy, but it may be harder for you to fully relax and let labor happen if you know there are strangers in a nearby room.

Atmosphere, Interventions, and Outcomes: Birth Center

Finally, let’s talk about what a birth center is like in terms of atmosphere, interventions, and outcomes.

Atmosphere

Most birth centers are designed to be like a home. They usually have rooms that look like your bedroom at home, with a comfortable bed, decor on the walls, normal furniture, and space to move around freely.

They likely won’t have any machines or monitors and you’ll be able to wear whatever you choose. 

Your midwives and other assistants will probably stay with you for most of labor but will usually take a much more hands-off approach so you can do your thing.

Most midwives don’t do regular cervical checks unless you ask them to, and they check your baby’s heart rate only intermittently as needed which allows you to focus on labor without unnecessary interruption.

Interventions

Birth centers consistently have low rates of medical intervention, so if you’re wanting an unmedicated birth, a birth center might be a good option.

That said, birth centers will almost certainly have IVs, Pitocin, and oxygen on hand in case they are needed. They will be used only when needed though, not routinely for every woman.

Outcomes

When I say “outcomes” I’m talking about things like c-sections and injury to or illness in baby or mom. Birth centers usually have good outcomes (and low rates of negative outcomes).

According to a study done in 2013, only 6% of moms who labor at birth centers will get a c-section

The same study found that only 1% of moms laboring at a birth center will have an assisted vaginal birth (forceps or vacuum device).

Midwives rarely cut episiotomies.

Birth center births attended by midwives have low rates of preterm birth, low birth weight babies, and deaths of babies.

Many women report they are satisfied with their experience in birth centers.

What is a Home Birth Like?

Now let’s talk about home births. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you pause and read Are Home Births Safe? before reading the rest of this blog post. Understanding the safety of home births is an important first step before looking at what home births are like.

The 3 Cs: Home Birth

What is the creed, convenience, and cost of a home birth?

Creed

If you give birth at home, you’ll be attended by an independent midwife (probably a certified professional midwife). To reiterate, midwives view birth as a natural, normal event and usually let it proceed without intervention. And they don’t expect you to give birth within a specific time range.

Your midwife will likely act more like a guest at your labor than a manager (which is what most women prefer and which often has the best outcomes). Like in birth centers, midwives usually take a hands-off approach and let mothers labor however they choose. 

Home birth midwives don’t expect emergencies but they know what warning signs to look for and when a hospital transfer is necessary. Before suggesting a transfer or medical intervention, though, they’ll do what they can to mitigate non-emergency challenges in natural ways. 

Convenience

Home births are the most convenient birth place when it comes to travel time and being surrounded by your own belongings. You don’t have to pack any bags and you don’t have to travel while in labor.

When it comes to paperwork, like birth center midwives, many home birth midwives will likely have you fill it out before labor begins so you don’t have to worry about in the middle of contractions.

One possible inconvenience of a home birth is that you have to provide many of the supplies. Your midwife may provide a birth kit but she’ll still need you to gather supplies, such as towels and bowls.

You will also be responsible for having diapers, wipes, and blankets ready for your baby. And you’ll need to have pads and other recovery items for you.

Cost

A home birth is often the cheapest option for birth place. On average, you can expect to pay between $4,000 and $9,000 for a home birth (including prenatal and postnatal care).

The cost depends on your midwife’s fee, lab tests and ultrasounds you have done, and whether you hire a doula and a birth photographer.

If you want to learn about the cost of a home birth in more detail, check out How Much Does a Home Birth Cost?.

Pain Management: Home Birth

At home, your options for pain management will be limited to natural coping methods. Chances are that’s what you want anyways, though, if you’ve chosen a home birth.

You can start to practice your labor coping methods now. Check out How to Cope With Contractions: Natural Pain Relief During Labor to get started.

In addition to techniques, your body naturally produces pain relievers during labor; they’re called endorphins and they’ve been shown to be stronger than man-made opioids like morphine. (This applies to all birth locations IF you are comfortable, able to relax, and unmedicated.) 

Who’s There: Home Birth

If you choose to give birth at home, chances are you’ll spend a lot of labor with just your husband (or whoever you choose as your main support person). A doula will likely come when active labor begins, if you hired one.

Your midwife will probably come as you near transition and the pushing phase.

Since it is your space, you get to decide who’s there. You can have your older kids there or not. You can have pets there (though they may be more of a distraction). You can have as many or as few people there as you want. 

I also want to point out that just like you can ask anyone to come to your birth, you can ask anyone to leave. (This is generally true of any birth location but especially true at home.) 

Whether one specific person is stressing you out or you just need fewer people around, communicate that to your birth team. Then let them take care of delivering the message so that you can focus on labor.

Atmosphere, Interventions, and Outcomes: Home Birth

What is a home birth like when it comes to atmosphere, interventions, and outcomes?

Atmosphere

Home is where you have the most control over your environment and birthing atmosphere. It’s your space so you’ll already be familiar with it and comfortable in it.

You can turn lights on or turn them off. You can have music or noise makers on or off. You control the smells. You get to choose if you want to lie in (your own!) bed, go outside, or wander between rooms in the house.

There will be no machines and no strangers. You can wear whatever you want (or nothing at all!).

Like at birth centers, your midwife will probably only do cervical checks when she feels it’s really necessary or when you ask her to. She’ll monitor your baby intermittently with a doppler.

Interventions

At home you are unlikely to have any interventions during labor. Most midwives will carry oxygen and some will carry Pitocin. A few will carry IV liquids. Those will be used in case of emergency or not at all.

Outcomes

Contrary to what many believe, planned home births attended by qualified midwives have excellent outcomes. The “planned” and “qualified midwife” parts of that are important.

Some of the scary statistics people refer to about home births are skewed by including women who weren’t planning on birthing at home but accidentally did, women who had known medical conditions that meant that they should have given birth in a hospital, or women who give birth at home without a qualified midwife.

With those statistics taken out of the picture, the outcomes are promising.

Three big myths circle about home birth outcomes, and I address all three in Home Birth Myths: Busted. To summarize…

1. The risk of the mother or baby dying is lower or at least no higher at home than in the hospital,

2. Hospital transfers aren’t super common and most are not because of emergencies, and

3. Negative outcomes happen LESS often at home than in the hospital.

I should point out that many of these positive outcomes are also seen at birth centers. I compare to hospitals here because that is the comparison most people are making in their minds.

For more information, go to Are Home Births Safe?.

TL;DR

So how do birth centers and home births measure up? Let’s make a quick side by side comparison.

Birth Center vs Home Birth: 3 Cs

Whether at a birth center or at home, you will be cared for by a qualified midwife. That means you will be with people who view birth as a normal process and you’ll be able to labor how you choose. You won’t be expected to give birth within a certain amount of time.

Home births are more convenient in that you don’t have to drive during labor and you don’t have to pack any bags to bring with you. Birth centers are more convenient in the sense that you don’t have to provide as many of the supplies for your comfort or recovery.

Depending on your insurance, and whether your birth center or midwife takes insurance, birth centers and home births will likely cost about the same.

That said, a home birth is more likely to cost less since you have more control over what is used during your birth and who is there and because you aren’t paying to use somebody else’s space.

Pain Management and More

Your pain management options will likely be the same at a birth center and at home. 

Birth centers generally welcome whoever you want as your birth team, though some may have a limit on how many people can be there. At home, you can have as many people there as you want.

In a birth center, there may be other people in nearby rooms (for appointments or even another woman in labor) which may affect your ability to fully relax.

The atmosphere at a birth center is designed to be home-like and comfortable. Of course, your home is your space, filled with your belongings, and you have control over every element of it.

Neither a birth center nor a home birth will include medical intervention unless it becomes necessary. And both have great outcomes, as far as the well-being of both mom and baby. 

Knowing all that, I hope you feel better able to make a truly informed choice for you and your baby about where to give birth.

Until next time,

Allison

P.S. If you want to learn about how birth centers compare to hospitals, don’t forget to check out Birth Center vs Hospital: What They’re Like and Factors to Consider.

FREE Guide

Are you wondering if a home birth is right for you? Then you need my FREE 6-question guide: Is a Home Birth Right For Me?

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *