How Childbirth Works

Birth Options: Doctors, Midwives, Hospitals and Birthing Centers
A mother and her newborn baby a day her after delivery at the Malalai Maternity hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan
A mother and her newborn baby a day her after delivery at the Malalai Maternity hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

For some women, who will deliver the baby and where it will take place are simple decisions. They already have an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) who will deliver their baby in a hospital where the doctor has privileges.

Sometimes women who want a natural childbirth find that midwives are more open to a less invasive approach. Often, midwives work in conjunction with doctors, who can step in if there are complications.

An additional option is to employ a doula as well as a doctor or midwife. A doula isn't a medical professional, but she assists with the physical, informational and emotional needs of both the pregnant woman and her partner. She may provide massages during labor, advocate for the pregnant woman in speaking with medical professionals, and assist with tasks after the birth such as caring for the baby or cooking.


A 20-minute-old baby in the arms of a midwife at the Birthing Center of Sout­h Florida on Oct. 16, 2006.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

­If a woman decides to give birth at a traditional hospital with any or all of the people listed above, she still has plenty of options. Typically, she would be moved from room to room during the labor, delivery and recovery stages, and then to another room (either semiprivate or private) after the baby is born. However, some hospitals have birthing rooms available in which all stages of the process take place. Often the birthing rooms are more comfortable for her partner and other people who may be attending the birth; they feel more like bedrooms than hospital rooms.

Some women choose to deliver at a birthing center, most often when their pregnancy is considered low risk. Birthing centers are usually staffed by nurses and midwives rather than doctors, although there's a doctor available for emergencies. Sometimes they're attached to hospitals, but they can also be freestanding. Generally, birthing center staff won't induce labor, provide medical pain relief or perform other typical medical interventions during the labor and delivery process. Some people consider them a compromise between a hospital birth and a home birth.

So what is a home birth like? On the next page, we'll find out -- and look at some other options, such as water births.