A birth center is a healthcare facility typically staffed by midwives or nurse-midwives, for mothers who have had a normal healthy pregnancy and who wish to give birth in a quiet home-like atmosphere.
A birth center represents a more home-like environment than a hospital labor ward, typically with more options during labor: food/drink, music, and the attendance of family and friends if desired. Other characteristics may also include non-institutional furniture such as household beds, large enough for both mother and father and perhaps birthing tubs or showers for water births. In a birth center, women are free to act more spontaneously during their birth, such as squatting, walking or moving into positions optimal for labor and birth. The decor and demeanor of the staff emphasize the normalcy of birth.
Midwives see mothers for prenatal appointments as well as attend the birth in the birth center. During labor midwives monitor the well being of the mother and fetus as well as provide encouragement for the laboring woman. Most birth centers do not offer medical pain relief such as epidurals and narcotics. Should additional medical assistance be required the mother can be transferred to a hospital. Some hospitals are now adding birth centers to their facilities as an alternative to the high tech maternity wards commonly found at most hospitals.
One of the most appealing features of birth centers is the length of stay after a birth. Sometimes just 3 hours after birth the mother and infant can go home and rest.