Average Cost of Childbirth

Dominique W. Brooks
newborn at birth

Finding figures regarding the cost of a hospital birth can be tricky, since every pregnant woman faces different circumstances. A young, healthy woman having her first child is likely to have a completely different birth experience compared to an older mother with previous children delivered via c-section who also suffers from high blood pressure or another chronic medical condition.

How Much Will My Baby Cost?

If you have insurance, the consumer reporting website Cost Helper states that your baby's birth may cost between $500 and $3,000 in addition to out-of-pocket expenses. However, this amount will vary depending upon the level of coverage you have and whether or not there are any complications during the baby's delivery. Read your policy documents carefully and call a company representative to ask questions if you aren't sure what expenses will be covered.

Without insurance, Cost Helper reports that a vaginal birth can run between $9,000 and $17,000. A caesarean birth can be between $14,000 and $25,000. Regardless of how you give birth, your baby will incur a separate bill for his care.

The expenses for a healthy full term infant typically run between $1,500 and $4,000. For a premature baby who needs to spend time in the NICU, however, costs will be much higher.

For a more detailed breakdown of potential scenarios regarding the cost of a hospital birth, you may want to review the Maternity Care and Consumer Driven Health Plans study prepared by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Figures are given based on births in Maryland, but the charts provide a look at how costs differ based on your level of insurance coverage and the circumstances surrounding your baby's birth.

Factors Affecting the Average Cost of a Hospital Birth

According to a report by the March of Dimes, the average cost of childbirth is over $3,000 higher for a Cesarean delivery than a vaginal delivery. This cost difference is not passed on to the insured consumer, however, as the difference in out-of-pocket costs between the two types of deliveries was only about $60. Even though the cost differences are not as pronounced for the insured person as for the insurance company, these rising costs still matter.

Vaginal vs. Caesarean

A vaginal birth is much cheaper than a caesarean birth, although inducing a vaginal labor with drugs will cost more than being allowed to go into labor naturally. A vaginal birth requires a one- or two-day hospital stay.

A Cesarean birth is a surgical procedure, so it requires more specialized staff and more intensive care. One or more obstetricians capable of performing the surgery have to be present at a Cesarean delivery, as well as nurses to assist the obstetricians doing the surgery and an anesthesiologist. The anesthesiologist has to be present during the birth to ensure that the anesthesia works properly and that the mother and her baby are not experiencing any serious side effects from the medication. In addition, there will also be one or two pediatric nurses to care for the baby after he or she is born.

Each medication and instrument used in a Cesarean delivery has an associated charge, as does the use of the operating room and the care immediately before and after the surgery itself. The hospital stay is also longer for a Cesarean birth - up to 3 to 4 days, which also drives up the associated costs.

Complications

Obviously, it's hard to predict whether or not there will be complications during a delivery. Even mothers who don't have high risk pregnancies can sometimes run into problems in the delivery room. Complications can add to the cost of the delivery.

Location

Where you live plays a part in the cost of a hospital birth. Delivering a baby is most expensive in the northeast and on the west coast. In comparison, mothers in the southern states will have cheaper hospital bills.

What Women Can Do About Childbirth Costs

Moms want the best for their little ones and getting cost-effective pregnancy care should not mean sacrificing quality. What pregnant moms can do is ask questions about all aspects of their prenatal care. Make sure each test and procedure has a clear-cut purpose and know that all patients have the right to refuse certain medical treatments.

Have a Plan

Women with complicated pregnancies may want to research the standards of care for their particular condition. Know how recommended treatments will affect both mother and baby and what standards of care exist within the medical community for the diagnosed pregnancy complication. Having a birth plan can help direct your care and help you achieve the birth experience you want.

Go Natural

Opportunities abound to cut costs associated with labor and childbirth. Moms who have had uncomplicated pregnancies may choose to let labor begin on its own, eliminating the need for a sometimes costly induction that may be difficult for both mom and baby. Some moms even choose not to use pain medications during their labors, using breathing techniques, visualization, and music to cope with the pain of labor. With no anesthesia, the associated costs of the IV or epidural catheter insertion and the anesthesiologist's own charges are eliminated. Also, the newborn may be more alert after an unmedicated or natural birth, making the need for resuscitation and specialized newborn care less likely.

Help for Low-Income or Uninsured Women

Pregnant women who are worried about the cost of delivering their babies have a number of options available. Each has advantages and disadvantages, however, so you will want to weigh your choices carefully before deciding the best way to proceed.

Apply for State Assistance

Low-income women may qualify for Medicaid to pay for prenatal care, childbirth, and the initial exam of the baby. If you think this may be an option for you, apply for coverage as soon as possible. Application processing times vary widely, especially if you have self-employment income or other special financial circumstances.

Talk to the Hospital

If you have no insurance or inadequate coverage, it's important to talk to your doctor and the hospital where you plan to deliver your baby right away. Many providers will offer a discount for patients who are paying out-of-pocket. You may also be able to receive an additional discount if you can settle the entire bill at once instead of making monthly payments.

Consider Home Birth or Birthing Centers

The services of a midwife are significantly cheaper than an obstetrician. You can save 25-35 percent on the cost of your delivery by using a midwife and delivering in a birth center instead of a hospital.

To learn more about finding a midwife, review OB-GYN or Midwife: How Will You Choose? on the Baby Zone website.

Understanding the Average Cost of Childbirth

The most important factor in making pregnancy and childbirth decisions should be the health and safety of mother and child with financial concerns far lower in priority. However, insurance companies are in business to make money. To keep their profits strong, insurance companies have to keep their costs down as much as possible. Higher costs for medical treatment for pregnancy and childbirth mean that the insurance companies have to increase prices somewhere else.

Every mom and baby deserves high-quality medical care at reasonable prices, and moms should understand the purpose of each test, procedure, and medical intervention that is recommended by their doctor in order to make informed decisions about their health and the health of their babies. By doing this, mothers can somewhat manage their costs in many cases and make sure they get the best care for themselves and their infants.

Average Cost of Childbirth