To Your Health
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About four million babies are born in the U.S. every year. That might sound like a lot, but the figure actually represents what researchers consider a sharp decline in birth rates, which began in 2008 and has closely followed the country’s economic decline.
As a result, the process of birth is a bit of a buyer’s market—and savvy healthcare providers are responding, knowing that they’re competing with other hospitals for a burgeoning family’s business. (They’re also competing with home births, which while still accounting for just a tiny percentage of births in the U.S.—0.72 percent in 2009—are nonetheless on the rise, increasing by 29 percent between 2004 and 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) And in the Valley, parents can be pretty savvy, not to mention choosy, consumers themselves, making the competition for the Best Childbirth Center especially meaningful.
This year, the honor went to Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s Childbirth Center. Cooley’s center works to make the process of having a baby friendly and personalized: families are invited to draw up a birth plan (called “My Birth Day Wishes”), tour the center, and attend classes on childbirth, baby care and breastfeeding before their baby’s arrival, and new-parent and breastfeeding support programs once the baby’s here. Cooley has also responded to community demands by increasing birth options, from adding a water tub where moms can choose to labor and give birth to developing its Midwifery Center for women who prefer to have midwives rather than doctors provide their prenatal care and attend their births. (Two other practices, WomanCare and Hampshire OB/GYN, are also affiliated with the Childbirth Center.)
Dr. Ed Patton of WomanCare is Cooley Dickinson’s chief of OB/GYN; he’s been there 14 years and admits that he’s lost track of how many births he’s attended over that time. The three practices at CDH’s Childbirth Center developed the “Birth Day Wishes” plan a few years ago, he says, to “give patients the opportunity to express what’s important to them,” from the time they arrive at the hospital to the time they’re discharged. While the hospital has seen some rather unusual requests over the years (alas, privacy concerns preclude Patton from disclosing the wackiest), most families focus on things like making sure the new baby goes to its mom as soon as possible after birth, to promote healthy bonding, Patton says.
To Patton, what makes Cooley’s Birth Center a special place are its nurses, midwives and doctors, many of whom have been there a long time. “They’re all pretty happy to be there, [and] enthusiastic about their jobs,” he says.