A birth centre is a small, midwife-led birth facility that is usually described as an environment somewhere between home and hospital. Less clinical than a hospital, but offering more staff and facilities than home, a birthing centre offers an informal but reassuring birthing option.
The birthing centre focuses on low tech childbirth. For this reason, it cannot offer pain relief such as an epidural, neither can it offer assisted birth with ventouse or forceps, although this is slowly changing. A caesarean can never be offered at a birthing centre.
Instead, the centre offers the chance to give birth using alternative methods such as a birthing pool, massage and reflexology. Rooms are also homely, less hospital-like and feature facilities such as mats and exercise balls which are effective during labour. Gas and air is also available. Most importantly, a dedicated midwife will stay with the woman for her entire labour and birth.
The benefit of a birthing centre focuses on the acknowledged fact that the more relaxed a woman is, the more straightforward her birth should be. This leads to less reliance on chemical pain relief, and minimises the need for an assisted birth.
Additionally, if a woman's labour runs into difficulties, the birth centre will insist on transferring her to hospital for the remainder of her labour and birth.