The Birth Center is a homelike facility, existing within a healthcare system with a program of care designed in the wellness model of pregnancy and birth. Birth centers are guided by principles of prevention, sensitivity, safety, appropriate medical intervention, and cost effectiveness. Birth centers provide family-centered care for healthy women before, during and after normal pregnancy, labor and birth.
National Association of Childbearing Centers, 1995
Birth centers use the midwife model of childbirth in a home-like setting. They are usually run by midwives, and can be either free-standing or within a hospital.
They can only take normal-risk patients and are prohibited from using epidurals and performing Caesarean sections. However, their outcomes are usually superior to hospital births. "The National Birth Center Study" found that neonatal mortality is comparable to low-risk in-hospital births (0.7/1000) and the average Caesarean section rate is 4.4 percent, approximately one half of low risk, in-hospital births. The study also reported that 98.8% of the women who have used a birth center would recommend it to others. In addition, birth center births cost roughly half a hospital birth.
At a birth center, birth is seen as a natural event, not a medical condition, and the midwives monitor the mother's progress to ensure that it remains normal. Midwives spend much more time with the mother both before and during the birth, and are able to foresee when medical intervention will be required.
Birth centers get the family involved in the birth - not just the mother and her partner. Older children are encouraged to be present as long as they are comfortable, and extended family and friends are allowed to visit during the labor.
During the pregnancy the mother is encouraged to be involved in the process - attending classes, keeping her own chart, monitoring her diet, and developing her own birth plan.