“It felt so normal. It was truly the best experience of my life,” says mom of four Carly Glover as she recounts the birth of her first child. It was a birth that happened outside the walls of the hospital and inside the home-like environment of Anne Arundel Medical Group Bay Area Midwifery’s birth center.
The practice operates a nationally accredited birth center — one of only two in Maryland. And like Carly, one in four of their clients decide the birth center is the right place for them to have their baby.
“Birth choices are so personal,” says Carly. “When I was pregnant, my mother was sick, and I was spending a lot of time in the hospital. I knew I wanted a completely different environment when I had my baby. So I switched to a birth center halfway through my pregnancy.”
While 98 percent of all births in the United States still happen in the hospital, the percentage of birth center births has been on the rise since 2004.
How is a birth center different than a hospital?
“A birth center is like a home away from home, or home with the extra safety net,” says Anne Seifert, one of seven certified nurse midwives at AAMG Bay Area Midwifery. “We have the same basic emergency medications and equipment that the hospital has, but in a home-like setting. We safely monitor mom and baby, and allow families to give birth in a comfortable, non-medical setting.”
Midwives are experts in supporting women with low-risk pregnancies give birth without pain medications. Still, the idea of a birth center can be confusing or overwhelming for some.
“My husband was hesitant about a birth center. I think his exact words were, ‘Are you crazy?’” says Carly. “He was worried about risks. What if something goes wrong? What if you need a doctor? What if you want an epidural?”
A tour and consult at the birth center put his mind at ease.
“We get those questions all the time,” says Shaina French, certified nurse midwife with AAMG Bay Area Midwifery, who says there’s a misconception that birth centers are unsafe or that midwives don’t have enough training.
As birth centers rise in popularity, studies continue to show they provide a safe alternative to hospitals for women with low-risk pregnancies.
“As certified nurse midwives, we are all master’s-degree-trained nurses who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology,” says Shaina. “We are board-certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board and licensed by the State of Maryland. We also collaborate with doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals, such as doulas.”
Preparing for a Birth Center Birth
Whether women choose a birth center or hospital birth, prenatal care is the same.
“The best part was arriving at the birth center in labor,” says Carly. “My husband said, ‘What do we do now?’ The midwife replied, ‘Whatever you want!’ It was magic to my ears — no needles, no monitors, no being stuck in bed.”
Pain management options in the birth center include verbal coaching, position changes, breathing techniques, methods like hypnobirthing or Bradley, massage and water therapy.
“We’re one of the few places in Maryland that offers water births,” says Anne. “Moms can labor and deliver in our tubs. It’s a big reason many women choose us.”
“There was a moment where I started to doubt myself,” says Carly. “But my midwife was right by my side reminding me of my strength, and providing kind and gentle support. It was just what I needed in that moment.”
Women and their families typically stay in the birth center three to four hours after giving birth, and then it’s time to go home. Parents must take the new baby to a pediatrician one to two days after birth.
“We call families a few days following the birth to answer questions and see if an in-person check is needed,” says Shaina. “Typically we see moms back in the office two and six weeks after birth.”
Is a Birth Center Right for You?
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re considering a birth center:
- Are you generally healthy with either no chronic health problems or well-controlled health problems?
- Do you have the interest, time and energy to invest in learning about and preparing for a pain-medication-free birth?
- Will you feel comfortable going home with a four-hour-old newborn?
- Do you have a support system to enlist?
- Have you handled physical pain well in the past?
The birth center is not an option for high-risk pregnancies, women expecting multiples, women who want a vaginal birth after Cesarean (VBAC) or women who want an epidural. These women, however, can still choose a midwife at AAMG Bay Area Midwifery and have their baby at Anne Arundel Medical Center.