This morning, an important new study was published confirming the safety and cost effectiveness of birth centers as an excellent option for healthy, low-risk women. The study was conducted by the American Association of Birth Centers and reviewed by our very own Rebecca Dekker, Improving Birth board member and author of www.evidencebasedbirth.com.
Birth centers are “home-like” settings for healthy women to give birth, usually attended by experts in “normal” childbirth: midwives. Care is family-centered and based on the principle that birthing women are best supported in labor with evidence-based practices and treated as individuals, rather than “managed” in labor and treated like sick people. Birth centers may be located independently of or within a hospital, and care is transferred to medical institutions if complications develop.
The study released today was based on a final sample size of over 15,000 women of varying ages, races, marital statuses, and educational backgrounds, some of whom were first-time mothers and others who had previously given birth. In the birth center study, 94% of these women ended up with vaginal births (this c-section rate of 6% compares favorably to the national rate of 27% for low-risk women), and 84% of the total sample gave birth at the birth center. Of the 16% that did not, some were referred to the hospital prior to labor, some during, and some after birth. Less than one percent of the study sample transferred to the hospital during labor for emergency reasons.
There were no maternal deaths. Rates for infants (0.047% stillbirth and 0.04% death within the first 28 days of birth) are consistent with the results of several previous studies of low-risk women that included births at hospitals, birth centers, and home.
The “bottom line” is that birth centers offer “high-quality, family-centered care with a Cesarean rate of approximately 6%” and a lower than 2% urgent transfer rate (for either mother or baby).
Not only can birth centers offer superior health outcomes for moms and babies, they provide something else that’s truly important: options! Birth centers are safe, comfortable alternatives to hospitals or at home. At birth centers, the process of birth and the woman giving birth are respected.