Whether a child enters the world expected or unexpected, health care professionals in the Ohio Valley are ready to meet the needs of both baby and mother before, during and after delivery.
With the area's population continuing to decline, local hospitals were askedhow many new babies they brought into the world in 2011. Between Wheeling Hospital, Ohio Valley Medical Center, East Ohio Regional Hospital, Reynolds Memorial Hospital and Trinity West Health Systems, that came to about 2,500 babies.
At Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry, birthing babies is a family affair from start to finish. On average, about 600 births occur between both facilities, or nearly 300 at each hospital annually.
A newborn is examined by Dr. Judy Romano, director of Wheeling Hospital’s Center for Pediatrics. Assisting Romano is nurse Cindy McLean.
Lynette DeBertrand, nurse manager at the BirthPlace at EORH, said both hospitals are incorporating the "Baby Friendly, Healthy Goals" initiative that strongly encourages breastfeeding for all new moms and creates a bonding atmosphere for mothers and babies who now spend 23 hours a day together following delivery.
"We are in our first year of this initiative and our goal is to hit 75 percent for breastfeeding mothers. Right now that number is around 53 percent," DeBertrand said. "In the second year, we hope to educate the mothers enough that they will understand the importance of breastfeeding their infants. We will not offer formula unless specified ahead of time."
DeBertrand said that the BirthPlace staffers at both hospitals undergo at least 20 hours of instruction to be able to meet the "Baby Friendly-Healthy Goals" designation. The initiative is designed to give babies a healthy start in life and help prevent childhood obesity. Obstetric staffs are cross trained so that they can work at either hospital if the need arises.
Q: On average, how many new babies are born in the Ohio Valley each year?
A: Just at four of the area's larger hospitals, about 2,500 births occurred in 2011.
That training also transcends to every department of the hospital so if a nursing mom comes into the emergency room or needs surgery, her specific needs and requirements are met.
At OVMC, the maternity floor continues to maintain a traditional nursery for the newborns while at EORH, babies remain in their mothers' rooms for most of their stay. And in those first few days, mothers are given personalized instructions on caring for their babies, themselves and even the rest of the family before heading home with their newborns.
"The mothers-to-be come into these rooms (at EORH) and they labor, give birth and stay in the same room the entire time. The rooms have everything we and they need to give birth," DeBertrand noted.
At Wheeling Hospital, the birth of a baby is announced over the intercom shortly after his or her arrival. A lovely chime followed by a message welcoming the newborn is shared by everyone at the hospital. After all, giving birth requires teamwork.
No one knows that better than Dr. Catherine Coleman who leads, in experience and years of practice, a team of OB-GYNs that serve the hospital's patients. Among the team are Dr. Chandra Swamy, Dr. Peter Bala, Dr. Sarah Lancione, Dr. Jessica Ybanez-Morano and Dr. Erin Stoehr. Also on board is gynecologist Dr. Wayne Groux.
Rounding out the list is Dr. Ronald Thomas, the area's only perinatologist, specially trained to assess and handle high-risk pregnancies. He hails from West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh and visits Wheeling Hospital once a week to handle the high-risk cases.
Coleman and Swamy have been on staff for more than 25 years each while the combined years of experience of the staff totals more than 140 years.
"We have the largest OB department on this side of the river and we work closely with one another," Coleman said. "Our team works well together, which benefits the patients and the doctors as we can back up each other."
In 2010, the hospital saw 1,000 births; in 2011, that number rose to 1,135.
While technology - especially the development of ultrasound utilized to determine the health and development of a fetus - has aided in more proactive and preventive health care measures, the actual birth of a child remains fairly routine, Coleman said.
"Giving birth is described as hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror," Coleman quipped. "But we know it's the best part of medicine ... to share in the birth of a child.
"The ultrasound is the best tool we have ... it has made a huge difference in the care of a pregnant woman and the baby. It's a non-evasive procedure that can tell us so much before the actual birth."
Families are encouraged to participate in the birthing process "as much as possible," Coleman said. "We try to make it as nice as possible for everyone."
At Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale, the New Generation Birth Center sees an average of 15 births per month or between 120 and 150 births each year. The center is headed up by Dr. Robert Shalowitz who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology.
Shalowitz said the smaller size of Reynolds offers a family atmosphere among the staff, which transcends to the care of patients.
"We have outstanding nurses here who are very experienced in labor and delivery procedures. Some are on par with a resident, they're that good," Shalowitz noted.
While routine deliveries are the goal at Reynolds, Shalowitz said the hospital sees a fair share of high risk, indigent pregnant women who can present problems when delivering their babies.
"We do see a large amount of high risk patients because of diabetes, poverty, smoking, drugs and poor nutrition. But I believe we have to be there and do everything for the babies because it's not their fault their mothers didn't take care of themselves," Shalowitz said. "That's not to say we don't have some very wonderful patients who seek prenatal care and deliver their babies without any problems."
Shalowitz said when circumstances do arise that require specialized care for mothers or babies, there is no hesitation in sending them out to UPMC in Pittsburgh or to Morgantown hospitals. At times, teams of specialists dealing with high-risk newborns are brought into Reynolds when circumstance warrant their skills.
He also said the medical staff continually keeps up with the newest standards of care for pregnant patients and their babies. Shalowitz is a firm believer in not inducing childbirth, especially prior to 39 weeks of gestation, unless a medical emergency warrants it. He noted that even a week's difference in delivery can make a difference in the overall health of the baby. He also said advancement in medicine allows doctors for better testing for premature labor and fluid loss during pregnancy.
"We may be a small hospital, but when there is an emergency we turn into a true family. Everyone just pitches in and does what needs to be done."
In Steubenville, Trinity West Health Systems recorded 552 birth in 2011. Yvonne Rozman, clinical manager for Trinity Birthing Center, said Trinity's pregnant patients enjoy private rooms where dads can stay round-the-clock and family and siblings can visit until 8 p.m.
"Babies stay in the rooms with the mothers at all times," Rozman noted. "We offer free childbirth classes and the Cord Blood Bank which is a wonderful, life-saving program. It's not the controversial stem cell issue, it's more like donating blood."
Trinity also boasts of new, state-of-the-art fetal monitoring equipment and a staff with an average of 20 years or more experience in labor, delivery and newborn care.