Hospital vs birthing center… which is better for a natural birth as a first-time mom?
Let’s dig into the pros and cons of each.
Hospital vs Birthing Center for Natural Birth
We started our prenatal care for our first baby at a local birthing center. I really enjoyed the midwives’ hands-off (and naturally minded) approach to prenatal appointments. It was important to me that I had a low intervention pregnancy and, ultimately, an unmedicated birth. I felt very supported at the birthing center and appreciated the way they offered medical options after sharing both risks and benefits.
At 25 weeks, my husband and I decided that, for financial reasons, we needed to transfer prenatal care and birth to the hospital instead of the birthing center.
I was really disappointed about transferring and was afraid that I wouldn’t achieve a natural birth in a hospital setting. Moreover, I figured I wouldn’t have an easy time sustaining a holistic pregnancy because of medical staff resistance.
Well, spoiler alert! I ended up highly satisfied with our experience at the hospital.
You’ll soon find out if a natural birth at a hospital vs birthing center is right for you!
Pros to Natural Birth in Hospital
1) There is less mess to worry about at home.
I did not want to have to think about putting a shower curtain under my sheets to protect my bed. I didn’t want to have my husband, family or friends washing bloody linens in our apartment-sized washer. Setting up and tearing down a birthing pool sounded like a big chore to me. And, I definitely didn’t want any other bodily fluids (or solids – ew) in my home to clean.
There is no part of me that would feel more at ease because I was home. I think I’m just too much of a clean-freak type homemaker for that.
2) Meals are delivered hot and ready, there’s no laundry to be done, and no dishes to do.
This goes along with the first pro. At the hospital, my husband and I didn’t have to worry about anything other than being new parents. That was amazing! I could take off my homemaking hat and put on my brand new mom hat.
If you have an extraordinary helper (other than your spouse) to do all of these things for you, then these things wouldn’t be as big of perks.
3) YOUR health is attended to – medications administered, medical care for stitches and such, breastfeeding help, etc.
Nurses and lactation consultants are there for you around the clock. For us, this was huge. Especially, as clueless first time parents!
I was appreciative for help with:
- Pumping, syringe feeding and hand expressing for our tongue-tied baby
- Postpartum health needs (stitches, fundal massage, etc)
- Medications and supplements (iron, ibuprofen, etc) being administered at the proper times
4: Your BABY’S health is attended to – basic health checks, any specific health issues, and basic care (diapering, bottle feeding if needed, bathing, etc)
It was nice that we didn’t have to go anywhere for healthcare for our baby. And, that the nurses helped care for the baby when we were sleeping, eating, or were generally clueless (like when we realized my husband had never changed a diaper.)
Cons to Natural Birth in Hospital
1. People are in your room all the time.
It felt very disruptive to me to have nurses, lactation consultants, housekeepers, pediatricians, etc coming in our room at all times. But, at the same time, I appreciated the help. Kind of a Catch 22, right?
2. Hospital policies don’t allow for family bonding.
Not having an area for my husband, my baby and myself to cuddle and be together was a letdown. (breastfeeding pun, anyone?) Our hospital allows rooming-in (the baby in a bassinet, you on the bed and husband on a couch) but doesn’t allow any other snuggly configurations.
3. It can be difficult to follow a natural birth plan and natural afterbirth care with resistant medical staff.
Simply put, it can be exhausting, confusing and irritating to feel like you are fighting medical staff to care for your health in a holistic way.
Our birth went smoothly and without strife because I tried my best to labor at home until the very last minute. One nurse even said, “Well, she didn’t really give us a chance to even do some of these things. It’s too late.” after reading my birth plan. Exactly the point.
After our baby was born, we were immediately given papers to sign, things to do, and were given lectures about standard health procedures that “needed” to be done right then. My husband was scared and self-doubting all of our research after a doctor came in and explained in detail the worst-case scenario of denying a common medical intervention for newborns.
4. The hospital’s sterile environment doesn’t feel cozy.
The hospital has dry, weird-smelling air. (Of course, you can bring essential oils for that.) There are cords and machinery everywhere. The lights are bright and unnatural. You know what I mean… it’s just not very cozy.
5: While you can labor in a birthing tub, you can not birth in the birthing tub.
This may be different hospital to hospital but I think for the majority of hospitals, water births are not allowed.
Pros to Natural Birth in Birthing Center
1) The medical staff is naturally minded and has a holistic approach that supports and encourages natural birth.
It is empowering to have an entire team of people all cheering you on to have a natural birth. It’s absolutely a game changer to have a medical staff that supports and encourages your dream of an unmedicated birth. The best part about having a holistic medical staff is that it doesn’t mean that you won’t be offered any modern medical interventions, it’s just that it’s offered only when necessary.
2) Comfortable homey rooms during your labor and delivery.
At a birthing center, you can labor in a cozy and comfortable room that is more similar to your own home than a hospital. For many women, this is very important and can allow for labor to progress more smoothly (and faster).
3) Water birth is allowed and encouraged.
The benefits of water birth are backed by science and thousands of women who have had successful water births. Water birth can help facilitate feelings of calm, safety and focus. They can shorten labor, reduce the risk of tearing, and more. So, this is a big perk of birthing centers!
4) There is less mess to worry about at home than with home birth.
Again, I just did not want to have to think about anything other than taking care of my newborn. I also didn’t want my husband to be distracted with trying to clean up with the house… and for me to be helping him help me with afterbirth cleaning.
5) More personalized care with the potential of one on one with a midwife.
It would’ve been nice to feel like I was the only person that my midwife/nurse was taking care of. Moreover, for practical reasons, it is good to have one consistent care provider so that your current medical information doesn’t slip through the crack during shift changes.
For example, it would’ve been nice to have only one person following along on our breastfeeding struggles. Instead, because I was in the hospital, I had to explain what the last few nurses said to do every time a new nurse came in to help me.
Cons to Natural Birth in Birthing Center
1. You are sent home after an average of 6 hours after birth.
This is both a pro and con – it depends on your birth and preferences. I distinctly remember bawling my eyes out when I realized about 5 hours after birth that if we were at the birthing center we would’ve been packing up. That thought was so overwhelming (and so were my hormones) to me that I burst into tears.
But, I know women that say they wish they could leave the hospital sooner or that they love that they can go home quickly after birth from the birth center.
2. There are no meals delivered, no medications administered, and no on-site lactation consultants.
Not having meals delivered really isn’t too bad. No medications being administered is kind of crappy. But, not having access to lactation consultants is downright terrible. Our firstborn would not have been able to nurse if there weren’t lactation consultants there to help us.
It is very possible that birthing centers have more resources for breastfeeding help than I know of. From what I do know, it would have been very hard for us to start our breastfeeding journey if we were at the birthing center because of our baby’s tongue tie.
3. The birth center has limited medical supplies available.
The birthing center is designed to provide holistic care for laboring mothers. That means that the birth center will have some medical supplies but won’t have the more major modern medicinal options available. This is both a pro and a con in some instances.
For example, even if you do end up wanting an epidural, if you’re at a birthing center it’s not even possible for you to get one unless you’re transferred to the nearest hospital. So, for some that is a helpful thing. And for others, it is scary and far too limiting.
4. You may need to be transferred via ambulance for c-section or any major complications.
Each birthing center has a slightly different protocol for when and why a birthing mother would need to be transferred to a hospital. Either way, it’s a possibility to consider.
“The National Birth Center Study II showed that on average, about 4.5% of birth center clients will be referred to a hospital before being admitted to the birth center, 11.9% will transfer to the hospital during labor, 2.0% will transfer after giving birth, and 2.2% will have their babies transferred after birth. About 82% of the women who transfer during labor are first time moms. Fewer than 1% of transfers are for emergency situations.”Birth Care Midwifery
All in All…Hospital vs Birthing Center
We will most likely be having a hospital birth for our next baby! My experience at the hospital was great overall.
I think having a natural birth at a birthing center would be lovely for a second birth and/or if it’s financially feasible for you. I think having a baby at a birthing center is also a great option if you have ample support and help at home. Like, if you have a super-dad for a spouse, your mom can come to stay with you, or you’ve hired a postpartum doula.
Related Post… How to Have a Natural Birth in Hospital