Bringing the comforts of home to a hospital birth center
Colorful bedspreads. Soft lighting. A wooden rocking chair with a blanket thrown over it.
With all the medical supplies tucked away and out of sight, it’s nearly impossible to tell the homey birth suite is part of a state-of-the-art facility at St. Joseph’s Medical Center.
The center, 1708 S. Yakima Ave., will open Aug. 15. There will be a community open house 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 13 when the public can tour the facility and meet the birth center staff.
“It’s really innovative,” said Jennifer Riffel, a CHI Franciscan midwife. “The goal is to provide another birth option.”
The CHI Franciscan Health outpatient midwifery birth center aims to combine the best of two options. Women with low-risk pregnancies who are interested in a natural birth can opt to deliver in one of the three birth suites, which feature a birthing hammock, a hydrotherapy tub, a shower and birthing balls, in addition to the queen-size bed.
Unlike standalone midwife centers, the CHI Franciscan Health birth center is on the St. Joseph’s campus — in case of the unexpected, mother and baby have easy access to the hospital’s family birth center.
The facility offers labor coaching at no additional cost. The facility also offers birthing classes and orientations so families can familiarize themselves with the space.
Yet Riffel said one of the greatest appeals of the outpatient birth center is that the mother and baby stay in the suite for only 6-8 hours and can go home for a few days before returning for post-partum checkups.
“It shortens the length of their stay,” said Eve Cunningham. “They have this new family — it gives them the chance to bond in their own space.”
Cunningham, an OB/GYN physician and division chief of Women’s and Children’s Services for CHI Franciscan Health, said that while the birth center does only natural births — no epidurals — they do use nitrous oxide as a weak anesthetic.
Rather than cause numbness from the waist down, as an epidural does, the nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas, gives the mother more freedom to get up and walk around. She said while it’s not widely used in the U.S., it’s used frequently in countries such as Finland, Great Britain, Australia and Canada.
“It hasn’t been part of the birth culture here,” Cunningham said. “But it’s very safe and effective, low-cost and self-administered.”
CHI Franciscan Health spokesman Scott Thompson said this isn’t the first birth center they’ve had — they operated a standalone birth center across from the hospital 25 years ago. CHI Franciscan ended its relationship with The Birthing Inn, another standalone birth center, in 2014, Thompson said.
Unlike standalone birth centers, however, Cunningham said the hospital center aims to give mothers options.
“Giving birth can feel out of control,” Riffel said. “This is one way to help them feel more in control.”
Hannah Shirley: 253-597-8670, @itshannah7