Some births take barely 30 minutes, while others last for days. Some are calmly attended by a midwife; others require emergency surgeries. But before that day comes, a family must make an important decision: where to give birth.

Most families choose a hospital birth, but not all hospitals are the same. You should use at least two criteria when making your choice: the hospital’s safety, and the c-section rate.

Thorough practice

In the best hospitals, patient safety is a top priority. Everyone—from scrub nurse to anesthesiologist to janitor—works to ensure that patients are protected from errors, accidents, injuries and infections. That’s important, because 1 out of every 6 people admitted to a hospital suffers a significant harm from a mistake.

When you first start thinking about your birth hospital, look for top marks in patient safety using tools like the Hospital Safety Score, or the federal Hospital Compare website.

"One out of every 6 people admitted to a hospital suffers a significant harm from a mistake."

Women also look for a hospital that manages labor well, and experts say a key indicator of this is the C-section rate. While many C-sections are medically necessary, some are not. Despite serious risks of infection or blood clots, longer recoveries and difficulty with future pregnancies, many providers will opt for a C-section to speed things along.

Managing risk

However, C-sections don’t need to be a default choice, and some hospitals work hard to avoid putting these new mothers at risk. Using the national data from Leapfrog Hospital Survey results, or using state-based resources available in many regions, you can see for yourself which hospitals in your area have low rates of C-sections. It is also helpful to ask your obstetrician or midwife about their own rate.

All mothers want to give their child the best start in life. Take your time deciding so they start their life in a safe hospital.