Birth Center vs. Hospital: What's the Real Cost of Childbirth?

When I was five months pregnant, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the cost of childbirth. Here in Georgia, my choices were limited to a “baby-friendly” hospital, a traditional hospital, or my own home. While my midwifery practice attended births only at the baby-friendly hospital, which ended up limiting my options, my friend Allison in Minneapolis was able to choose one of many birthing centers in her area. And my other friend Leah decided to deliver her baby at home.  

All three of our experiences ended up varying widely.

Curious about the differences, I checked out the cost of childbirth for our respective choices.

Each of us had a doula — a labor support person who provides continuity of care. The midwife or doctor is usually present only when things really get moving. The doula stays with you throughout labor and frequently checks in after the birth once you’re home. My sister-in-law was my doula, so that cost me nearly nothing, while Allison paid $800 for hers.

There are big differences between giving birth at a hospital and at a birth center, and the average cost of childbirth can vary greatly. Check out these great tips for new parents. #family #Parenting #CentSai #hacks #tipsMy labor lasted almost exactly 48 hours (about half at home and half at the hospital). I went to the hospital roughly 18 hours in, only to be turned around. I hadn’t progressed enough into the childbirth process, and I wanted to avoid unnecessary interventions.

So after a shot of painkiller to help take the edge off, we went back home. The next morning, we returned to the hospital and I was admitted. My daughter wasn’t born for another 18 hours or so, after which I spent another two nights in the hospital.

Allison had a much shorter labor. She labored at home for nearly the entire time, going to the birthing center only about two hours before her daughter was born. All in all, she spent about 12 hours in labor.

The Cost of Childbirth for Me

My midwife cost $3,500, which included all prenatal visits and one postpartum visit at six weeks. I needed to spend my $3,000 deductible before my insurance would begin contributing, but that easily covered it.

The hospital was a bit more complicated, but in the end, I paid $1,882.48 for the hospital. That brought the total to $5,032.48.

Provider Cost to Insurance What I Paid
Midwife $3,500 $3,150
Hospital $13,270.90 $1,882.48
Total $16,770.90 $5,032.48

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The Cost of Childbirth for Allison

Because Allison used a midwife at the Minnesota Birth Center and gave birth there, her total cost with insurance was $2,900. That amount covered all prenatal visits and the use of the facility for giving birth. 

While Allison paid about $2,000 less than I did, she said that the midwives poured her a sitz bath with herbs to help the healing process after the baby was born. She took a bath while her husband and baby napped nearby. And all told, she spent only four hours at the center after the birth before leaving for the comfort of her home.

Why Go to a Birthing Center? 

For low-risk pregnancies and births, a birthing center is a great alternative to a hospital or home birth. 

The 345 certified birthing centers in the U.S. are run by midwives. They are freestanding facilities where individuals can go to give birth without going directly to a hospital. 

Robyn Pool, the founder of PUSH Midwifery & Birth Center, says that many expectant parents think they must “go somewhere” to give birth, and they choose a birthing center which is neither home nor hospital. There is no difference in care between giving birth at home or at a birthing center. 

Despite this, many people feel more comfortable being away from home for the birthing process.

About 0.3 percent of all U.S. births take place in a birth center, and 94 percent of people who enter labor at a birthing center achieve a vaginal birth, according to the National Birth Center Study II. The same study also claims that less than 1 percent of laboring parents are transferred to a hospital for emergency reasons.

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The Cost of a Home Birth for Leah

Out-of-hospital births — which includes those conducted at a birthing center or at home — are 68 percent less expensive than those in a hospital. They are the least expensive option for giving birth. Giving birth at home is great for a mother with a low-risk pregnancy.

A midwife, and often a doula, will assist in the birth. Midwives are trained professionals who are certified to cater to birth and birthing parents. They often provide support in the postpartum period as well. 

The American Pregnancy Association says that births with a doula are less likely to require pain-relief medications. They are also less likely to end in a cesarean section.

My friend Leah had a home birth experience for her son. Her costs are included below:

Cost of home birth

Birthing Center vs. Hospital vs. Home Birth Costs

I spent nearly three days in the hospital after my daughter was born. The nurses would come in frequently to give me medication and check the baby, which prevented any real sleep from happening. 

The food was terrible for a vegetarian, and I had a hard time moving around and recovering in general. I probably would have benefitted from an immediate sitz bath and a more comfortable bed. Even so, I was glad to be at the hospital for this birth, and I was thankful for my amazing midwife and lactation consultants.

While I had prepared for the cost of both the midwife and the hospital, I may decide to go to a birthing center or do a home birth for my next child — not just because of my experience, but because of the cost of childbirth, too.

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Determining Which Option Is Best for Your Birth

Determining whether you will deliver at a birthing center, at home, or at a hospital boils down to several key differences, which include the risk of your pregnancy, your personal medical history, and whether you want the option of medication. 

Birthing Center vs. Hospital: Pros and Cons

“Birth centers may be best for people who are having a low-risk pregnancy,” says Minneapolis-based doula Chelsey DuBois. “Most birth centers do not offer medications aside from antibiotics and possibly nitrous oxide — as such, they’re a great choice for someone who wants the comfort of home but does not desire to have a home birth, or where home birth is not an option.”

“Alternatively, hospitals can be a great choice for anyone who is looking to have the option of medication, including an epidural or other pain medications,” DuBois continues. “Anyone who needs to be medically induced will need to birth at a hospital, and obviously someone having a surgical birth or requiring neonatal intensive care unit for premature birth will require a medical facility.”

DuBois also indicates that some birthing centers may not accept a mother having multiple children, with certain illnesses, or attempting to have a vaginal birth after a cesarean. If this describes you, you’ll definitely want to provide these details to your birthing center of choice to ensure they’re capable of providing the needed level of service. 

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Check How Insurance Will Affect the Cost of Childbirth

Finally, you’ll want to check with your insurance provider to make sure you understand your options and the associated costs, and they’re able to accommodate the cost of your desired delivery method.

“Insurance will generally cover either birth centers or hospitals, although it depends on the specific insurance plan,” DuBois adds. “Both birth centers and hospitals will work with you to make sure you are covered by your insurance during pregnancy.” 

Knowing the options available can ensure you are as comfortable as possible during childbirth — and assist in a speedy, possibly herbal bath inclusive recovery.