ST. PETERSBURG — The region's newest maternity ward, Bayfront Baby Place, will display the latest medical thinking on labor and delivery when it opens early next year.
And many of these "new" childbirth concepts are rooted in ancient childbirth wisdom.
For example, there is no more pressure to whisk newborns away from their parents for weighing right after delivery. Doctors now believe in "kangaroo care," where the baby is cradled on the mother's chest immediately after birth for calming and warming.
In a competitive marketplace, Baby Place's biggest selling point to parents-to-be may be its proximity to the neonatal unit, located just three floors above at the new All Children's Hospital. When the facilities open in early January, new moms whose babies require intensive care will be just an elevator ride away.
Baby Place features the spa-like decor and amenities increasingly touted in maternity services. Many hospitals already embrace steps to make birth less of a medical procedure and more of a natural experience. But Baby Place's design illustrates the extent to which attitudes about childbirth are going back to the basics.
Dr. Molly Long looks forward to helping expectant mothers deliver in pink-accented rooms with large windows, where medical equipment is hidden behind sleek, wood-grained cabinets. More important from a medical perspective, she noted there is plenty of room for women to walk around during labor or sit on big birthing balls, which help with the labor process. That freedom is a break from the past when women were expected to remain largely in bed during labor.
It's a far cry from the sterile environment in which the 40-year-old obstetrician's mother and grandmother delivered their children.
"It's come back around to where we're trying to make things more of a pleasant environment, trying to be as minimally invasive as possible," said Long, "but still be in a medical facility where emergency care is very closely accessible."
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When certified nurse midwife Lynne Dollar was working at Bayfront in the 1970s, she felt the hospital was designed for treating sick people, not for healthy women admitted to give birth.
There's little risk of confusing Baby Place with an old-style hospital. The facility, on the third floor of the new All Children's Hospital, features 13 private birthing suites, as the delivery rooms are called. There are four operating rooms for C-sections, with room to accommodate the multiple births that have become more common in this age of fertility treatments.
The push for breast-feeding, which continues to gather steam, is seen in the private feeding rooms that were incorporated into the nursery at Baby Place.
In general, the post-delivery rooms are designed for infants to stay with their mothers, complete with a baby-sized bathing sink with warming lights. All rooms also have a place for dads to spend the night, too.
From the valet parking to the flat-screen televisions, the effect is more like a hotel than a hospital, with an emphasis on keeping families together. Women who have to spend weeks at the hospital on bed rest have access to a special lounge where they can visit with their families, cook and do laundry.
As much as the facility upgrade, the new maternity ward incorporates philosophical changes Dollar, 65, never expected to witness.
"We used to get yelled at for putting the babies on Mom's chest," she said, laughing to recall the doctors' concerns that the babies would get cold. "We used to go, 'Hello, it's the warmest place in the room.' "
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Now Bayfront doctors, like many peers at other hospitals, have embraced kangaroo care for full-term babies as well as for the premature babies, who first helped demonstrate its benefits in the medical literature.
In kangaroo care, the naked newborn is cocooned between the mother's bare skin and blankets. So long as the infant appears healthy, Long said, cleaning and initial tests can be performed at the mother's bedside.
This skin-to-skin contact has been found to calm babies, stabilize their heart rates and their breathing. It also helps with breast-feeding and developmentally important bonding between mother and infant.
Diane and Jeff Hilton of St. Petersburg say they saw the benefits right away when their daughter was born on Wednesday.
"Right after birth, when they placed the baby right on my wife, skin to skin, the baby just kind of calmed down, was real warm and got covered," said Jeff Hilton, 39. "It was a great bonding moment for all of us."
Baby Lily Cara was so snug that her mother couldn't look down to see her face. But her father and others described her delicate features.
"After waiting for nine months and an extra week and a day for her, we were just blessed to have her here and just really very emotional," said Diane Hilton, 31. "She was just nestled on my chest."
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit www.tampabay.com/health.