While still a small minority, there’s been an increasing number of babies delivered in birth centers — a more homelike care setting utilizing midwives and emphasizing wellness — in recent years.

Both consumer-minded mothers seeking comfort and convenience, along with the Affordable Care Act that requires state Medicaid programs to pay a facility fee to such centers, are driving the trend.

In the past five years, the number of birth centers has risen by 57 percent, to 313, Kaiser Health News reports. Health care executives are taking notice, with about 20 owned or operated by hospitals.

Kate Bauer, executive director of the American Association of Birth Centers, believes that the number is going to grow in the near term as consumers and hospital executives catch on. About 15 percent of births occur in birth centers vs. 85 percent in the traditional setting, she notes.

“If we look to the future, it really should be reversed. We should treat women as if pregnancy is normal and that it’s a healthy event,” she says. “I think, as more hospitals see it as advantageous to open birth centers, we will see an increase because we’re at a tipping point.”

Inova health system in Falls Church, Va., recently opened its own natural birth center last year on its Loudon Hospital campus, celebrating one year of operation this fall. The new wing, fashioned in an old medical office, offers spacious, decorated private-delivery rooms designed for comfort.

Numbers for the first year were relatively modest, with 95 admissions, compared with 2,700 in the traditional hospital setting, according to Cindy Andrejasich, patient care director, labor and delivery, in perinatal services at Loudon Hospital. But she expects an uptick as word of mouth spreads.

The health system opened its own center in response to competition, along with women being transported to its delivery unit following complications at stand-alone centers, Andrejasich says.

“We wanted to be able to give them a homelike atmosphere with a medical backup if necessary. So, rather than its being a car or ambulance ride if things didn’t go as planned, it was just a quick trip down the hallway,” she says.

To avoid those ambulance rides, private birth center operators, such as Baby+Co., are partnering with hospitals to open clinics that offer the full continuum of care. They’ve opened five centers in the Southeast with systems such as Vanderbilt University Medical Center.