On paper, they may seem like the same thing since both a birthing center and a hospital are here for the same purpose - to help you through labor and get that baby out of you. But when it comes down to it, the differences between a birthing center and the hospital are very much real. If you're all about the science of giving birth, then yes, a hospital with all of its doctors and bright lights and medicines at the ready is what would work best for you.
On the other hand, if you’re all about that more personal experience, or the feeling of being at home without actually giving birth on your toilet, then giving birth at a birthing center is the best possible fit for you. While it's plenty true that you may very well want to change your mind several times throughout your pregnancy about where you give birth (and about lots of other things, too), it's important to know all of the most important aspects of both in order to make your decision.
At least, your initial decision anyway.
There are going to be a lot of decisions you make as a parent, right from the beginning, and yes, deciding on a birthing center or a hospital is one of them. Here are some of the more pertinent things to consider.
10 Your Coach - Birthing Center:
Here, you get the advantage of having a doula to guide you and keep you comfortable, both physically and emotionally. Which, believe it or not, are both plenty important when giving birth. They are also plenty familiar and comfortable with making your birthing experience as natural as possible, should that be your concern.
9 Your Coach - Hospital:
No, the hospital doesn't supply a coach, so to speak, but you will have plenty of professional doctors and nurses at your disposal in order to keep you at ease every step of the way. And sometimes, the science of giving birth is one of the most intimidating aspects.
8 The Atmosphere - Birthing Center:
At birthing centers, you're given the chance to give birth in a setting that feels and looks very much like a warm and comfortable home, as opposed to a white, bright, and sterile environment. You also have a lot less doctors and nurses coming in and out in shift-like strings of people.
7 The Atmosphere - Hospital:
Some maternity wards may not be the coziest, or "homey", but a hospital environment brings with it the comfort of being exactly where you need to be, should anything go wrong or should you need to adjust your birth plan.
6 Cost - Birthing Center:
While some birthing centers may not accept health insurance, they also don't require days of stay, instead allowing expectant mothers to leave the center within hours. And overall, the cost of a birthing center out of pocket may be less than a hospital birth.
5 Cost - Hospital:
The biggest upside to delivering at a hospital is, of course, the fact that health insurance makes the whole process that much easy, financially speaking. Because much of your hospital stay would be covered by insurance, hospitals also require you to stay a couple of days to recoup.
4 Pain Management - Birthing Center:
Some birthing centers are attached to hospitals, making them facilities that have easy access to more in-depth medical care, should it be required. But while a big part of giving birth at a birthing center is to do it naturally, the use of a hospital at all is mostly for emergencies.
3 Pain Management - Hospital:
As you might expect, an advantage of giving birth at the hospital is that there are tons of resources at the ready in order to supply you with an epidural, should you choose to go that route. There is also a nurse on standby for any of your other pain reducing needs.
2 The Ideal Experience - Birthing Center:
Choosing to have a more natural birth or even a home birth is a strong decision that mot expectant moms don't take lightly. And should you want to experience a home birth, but feel intimidated by actually being in your home and giving birth there, a birthing center offers you the ideal setup to make you as comfortable as possible.
1 The Ideal Experience - Hospital:
Because of all of the medical supplies and machines readily available, giving birth at the hospital makes it possible for you to feel comfortable in that sort of setting. You've chosen this type of birth plan for a reason, and most hospitals do all they can to support that.
The biggest difference of giving birth at a birthing center vs. an actual hospital is the atmosphere and what works best for you. In what might be hours and even days (ugh!) or labor, you want to be in the setting which most closely resembles your ideal situation for giving birth. You also don't want to be in a position to regret your decision, which is why thinking hard and doing all the research you can on both options is absolutely imperative.
That is not to say that you can’t change your mind at the last minute, because of course no one is going to force you into a birthing center if you decide on the car ride there that an epidural and white-coated doctor is what you really need. Likewise, you can always opt for a birthing center is you realize from the hospital tour that you require more of a personal experience overall.
Since you'll be making all kinds of parenting decisions from this point on, and likely second guessing yourself on all of them, start with the right one for yourself and your body when it comes to giving birth.