What is a Birth Center?

“I have shopped at the boutique, done the prenatal yoga classes, seen Rochelle the lactation consultant and had both my babies here. There is not a single thing I would change about babies in bloom. The staff have always been super sweet, the prenatal yoga helps me feel amazing and instructor is funny and helpful, the nurses during my birth were caring, sweet, and helpful. I absolutely love babies in bloom it is a gem of a community that I'm so lucky to have close to me!” - Erin

A birth center is a free-standing facility where families and people go to give birth, rather than at home or in a hospital. There are many different types of birth centers with different models of care, but generally all birth centers follow the midwifery model of care. Families and pregnant people may choose to utilize a birth center for many reasons.


  • Unique living situation - Sometimes families living with other people, their parents, roommates, etc. choose to go to a birth center to have more privacy.  It can also be a great solution if a family is planning to move soon before baby’s arrival or if their home is under construction.

  • Distance to a hospital - Families living far from a hospital but still hoping to have a natural birth out of the hospital sometimes choose a birth center instead.  While most low risk pregnancies require little to no interventions during labor and delivery, there are occasional transfers to the hospital. Choosing a birth center close to a hospital can help parents feel safe to labor in peace.

  • Idea of going somewhere - We hear this a lot! Our culture and the media consistently portray people in labor as having to quickly get up and go to the hospital. (In reality they probably have plenty of time and should stay home!) Because of this, many people like the idea of a home birth but still have this cultural desire to go somewhere for the birth. A birth center can be the perfect happy medium!

  • Classes and community - Most birth centers offer courses ranging from childbirth education to breastfeeding to postpartum care to prenatal yoga.  Many also create space for parents and families to come together to share their experiences and connect. Building a community while pregnant and postpartum is so important and choosing a birth center can help facilitate that.


Birth centers generally have several birth suites so that multiple people can labor at the facility at one time.  Typically these birth suites contain a bed, a bathtub and a bathroom, and most centers carry many helpful items for birth, like birth balls, rebozos, slings, etc. Medications and safety equipment are also available and up-to-date at all birth centers, in case of emergency.  Most birth centers have a waiting area and a kitchen available to the family as well.


People and families can choose a birth center model that works best for them.  There are open and closed model birth centers


Open Model

In an open model, a pregnant person chooses their midwife (one who has privileges at that birth center) to care for them through their pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum.  At the time of labor and delivery, they meet their midwife and team at the birth center. This situation is similar to home birth, only you and your team are using someone else’s home!


Closed Model

A closed model has a set of midwives who work shifts and see all clients for prenatal and postpartum care.  At the time of labor and delivery, the pregnant person is attended by whichever midwife and staff is on shift at that time.  These birth centers are typically able to care for more people and families.


In both models, a laboring person typically arrives in active labor to meet a midwife and utilize the space.  They are able to deliver their baby where they choose and are then assisted to the bed to rest and bond with their baby. They are encouraged to eat and rest, and a midwife or birth assistant is always available to help with breastfeeding, walking or using the bathroom.  The midwife will complete a thorough newborn exam, weigh and measure the baby, and review all postpartum instructions. Most families stay at the birth center for about 4 to 8 hours before leaving to go home, and a midwife or birth assistant will always verify the health of the parent and baby before discharge.


In the state of California  a birth center can be accredited by the Commision for the Accreditation of Birth Centers, although does not have to be to provide quality care.


Accredited Birth Centers

In order to become an accredited birth center in California, the birth center must have a consulting physician, must follow a set of guidelines and have someone from the CABC review their cases and facilities every few years for approval.  Some insurance companies will only work with birth centers that have been accredited, so it is important to check with them about coverage.


Non-accredited Birth Centers

While these birth centers are still licensed by the state of California, they do not follow the guidelines set by the CABC.  Most of these facilities do this intentionally so they can create their own guidelines and standards of care, while staying in the scope of practice and safety of midwifery care.

Information on the safety of birth centers:

Evidence Based Birth

Birth Centers.org

© SeeMidwives 2019