Written by Anna Van Wagoner
Everyone knows that WMM? loves birth centers. Birth centers are a place where women can fully experience the midwifery model of care. Pregnancy and birth are viewed as normal, healthy, yet important life events. The peaceful, home-like atmosphere allows for woman centered care. And, of course, birth centers are generally operated by midwives and we love midwives! A new study shows that this model of birthing provides huge benefits. The National Birth Center Study II was conducted by the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC) and published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Midwifery Women’s Health, the official journal of the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).
The birth center study included 15,574 women who received care in 79 midwife-led birth centers in 33 U.S. states from 2007 through 2010. Out of the 15,574 women included in the study 84% gave birth at their intended birth center. Only 16% had to transfer care to a hospital and of those transfers the vast majority were for non-emergency reasons. Fetal and newborn mortality rates were low (0.47/1000 births and 0.40/1000 births, respectively) and were comparable to those in low-risk births in hospital settings. There were no maternal deaths. Fewer than 1 in 16 of the study participants had a cesarean birth. That statistic is so amazing that I want to write it again and again: only 6% of women giving birth at a birth center ended up needing a surgical birth!!! This is big news. In 2010 the U.S. Cesarean rate reached an astounding 32.8% of all births. If this statistic is adjusted to reflect only a population that similar to the low risk women giving birth at birth centers, it is still an estimated 24%. That means 1 and 4 healthy, normal pregnant women end up needing surgery. If these women received care at a birth center most of them could avoid have avoided that costly intervention.
On the topic of cost, the study highlights significant financial benefits as well. Given lower costs in the birth center setting as well as low rates of cesarean birth, the 15,574 births in this study may have saved more than $30 million in facility costs alone based on Medicare/Medicaid rates, not including additional savings in costs of other providers, anesthesia, and newborn care in hospital settings. If even 10% of the approximately 4 million U.S. births each year occurred in birth centers, the potential savings in facility service fees alone could reach $1 billion per year. In addition, U.S. spending on maternity care could decline by more than $5 billion if only 15% of pregnant women gave birth via cesarean. That is some serious savings!
The benefits of birth centers are too significant to ignore. This birth option needs to be available to women everywhere. Birth centers are the gold standard in maternity care.