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Choosing a Birth Center: Ten Questions to Ask
by Diana Korte and Roberta Scaer

Excerpt from A Good Birth, A Safe Birth (HARVARD COMMON PRESS, 1992)

If you're considering a birth center, you won't need to find Dr. Right, as the person and the place are a package. Read over the questions for hospitals, too, as some will apply to these centers as well. Most questions do not though, because birth centers typically have low intervention rates and little opportunity or interest in separating you from your baby, partner, or friends.

  • Is your birth center accredited by the Commission for the Accreditation of Freestanding Birth Centers?

  • Are you staffed by certified nurse midwives and nurse practitioners or physicians? Most birth centers have CNMs on the staff even if there are doctors as well. If you're considering a center that doesn't have any CNMs, be sure and ask about their hospital-transfer rate and use of drugs.

  • How many of your clients transfer to the hospital? Transfer rates vary among birth centers, and if your birth center has a higher rate than average, ask why.

  • Are childbirth education classes, as well as prenatal, childbirth, and postpartum care included in your fee? They usually are, and the overall cost generally is far cheaper than hospital rates.

  • How long are prenatal visits? Midwives often spend up to an hour with you during each monthly visit.

  • Who will be with me during labor and birth? If there are several CNMs, will more than one be with me? What chance is there that a midwife or doctor that I don't know will be there during labor?

  • How long is a typical postpartum stay a the birth center, and is a home visit part of my postpartum care?

  • If my baby needs the care of a pediatrician at birth, how is that handled?

  • What's your cesarean rate? Cesareans, of course, are not performed at birth centers, but women who need them are transferred to a hospital. At the same time you're asking this question, ask what are the reasons for the cesareans.

  • What is your opinion of prenatal testing, and in particular, the use of ultrasound? Do you use a Doptone (see "Ultrasound") or do you use a fetoscope for prenatal visits and labor? In 1989, ACOG said that fetoscopes are as good as electronic fetal monitors (EFMs) for monitoring normal births. However, many doctors and nurses are unfamiliar with their use, while MANY midwives are quite comfortable using them.

Copyright 1992 by The Harvard Common Press. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Diana Korte is an award winning journalist and author of The VBAC Companion (Harvard Common Press, 1997) and Every Woman's Body (Ballantine, 1994), as well as the co-author of the much acclaimed A Good Birth, A Safe Birth: Choosing and Having the Childbirth Experience You Want (Harvard Common Press, 1992). She has been a La Leche League leader and is the mother of four children and three grandchildren. She's also served on local, state, and international health related boards of directors.

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