CHI Franciscan Health Opens Outpatient Midwifery Birth Center

The Midwifery Center - Birthing Room Rendering Board

Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan Heath.

Mothers seeking a natural childbirth close to medical care now have a new option in Tacoma. A midwifery birth center will open Aug. 15 at St. Joseph Medical Center. It is the only outpatient midwifery birth center on a hospital campus in the state. The center is located across the street from the main hospital building.

The facility’s three birthing rooms are designed to look and feel more like a home than a medical center. Each room has a queen-size bed and a large hydrotherapy birthing tub. There’s also a birthing ball and birthing hammock. No medical equipment lines the walls and there are no hospital beds. However, should an emergency come up, the doctors at St. Joseph are steps away.

CHI Franciscan Health Certified Nurse Midwife Jennifer Riffel said when emergencies occur during home births an ambulance has to be called, but at the birthing center it takes five minutes to wheel a mother over to the care she may need. For the majority of expecting moms, the center is designed to offer a positive and natural birthing experience.

“Women remember (giving) birth forever,” said Riffel. “You talk to your grandmas and stuff they’ll tell you about their birth stories. I think our country is starting to recognize how important it is to listen to women. I think that’s part of what we do really well here, we’ve just moved it over to a different setting.”

Midwives are not new to the hospital. Currently, 40 percent of babies born at St. Joseph Medical Center are delivered by midwives. Riffel and CHI Franciscan Heath Obstetrician Eve Cunningham say that the new center will likely be less expensive (depending on insurance plans) than giving birth in the hospital – both for the family and the facility.

The Midwifery Center - Lobby Rendering Board

Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan Heath

“When you look at our European partners, they have much more of a model that’s similar to what we’re offering here,” said Cunningham. “They really encourage patients to have a more natural childbirth with less intervention. Obviously if you have to intervene, if you have to do things, you do it. But less is more. If you don’t have to intervene why should you? There’s just been a different philosophy in this country and we’re starting to see that tide sort of turn.”

The facility will be staffed with Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM). Expecting mothers must have a pretty clean bill of health with low risk of complications to be admitted. While there are only three rooms, the staff doesn’t expect to be full and unable to take expecting mothers when they go into labor. Partly because mothers stay between 6-8 hours after birth before heading home. Hospital stays for new moms can be much longer.

Among Cunningham’s list of reasons why women might consider the center is the simple fact that “the hospital is where sick people go.” Giving birth at the center may help protect mothers and babies from being exposed to illnesses.

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is the managing editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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