In October of 1983, Katie Beckstrand was born at the Women’s Center at UNC REX Hospital in Raleigh. This February, Beckstrand returned to that same hospital—where she’d already given birth to seven children—to have her eighth baby, a boy.
“I love the nursing staff from each and every delivery,” says Beckstrand, who currently lives in Franklinton, NC. “I always felt like they were close friends or family members supporting me. Having a number of kids, they make you feel like each one is still special. Not just, ‘oh, you have another baby,’ but ‘this is so exciting.’ They are there to serve.”
It’s commonly said that, in Wake County, a kindergarten class is born each day. Coupling that sheer demand for spaces for moms to deliver with the mixture of excitement and anxiety that parents feel when they’re expecting has translated into big business for local birth centers. And why shouldn’t it? Though official numbers are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence (read, we asked a lot of moms) suggests that giving birth in the Triangle costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000, though out-of-pocket costs, of course, vary widely based on the birth experience and different insurance plans.
In Wake, there are four traditional hospital options for expectant moms to choose from: UNC REX on Lake Boone Trail, WakeMed Raleigh on New Bern Avenue, WakeMed North on Falls of Neuse Road and WakeMed Cary. And, in 2021, labor and delivery services will be available at another REX hospital planned to open in Holly Springs.
Each facility offers its own unique mix of services and amenities, running the gamut from using cutting-edge technology to monitor delivery and recovery to ensuring patients’ experiences are more spa-like than sterile.
“We know the environment is part of the healing process,” says Sheri DeShazo, a nurse and the senior vice president and administrator of WakeMed North Hospital, WakeMed’s newest facility offering labor and delivery services. “We have seen a 37 percent increase in volumes in delivery at [WakeMed North] from last year to this year. So we are really seeing that growth.”
April Lalumiere, the director of the UNC REX Women’s Center whose background is in labor and delivery, says around 5,000 babies are delivered at REX each year, making it one of the busiest birth centers in the Triangle and across the state.
“The patient experience and quality is our number one focus in order to keep parents coming back here,” Lalumiere says. “We see daily when we talk to families that, many times, patients are either coming back to us to have their babies here, or decided to come here for their second or third.”
Technology and Tradition
Both REX and WakeMed offer a mix of modern and traditional methods to ensure the best patient experience and quality of care before, during and after each birth.
At REX, this includes making midwives available to patients, a practice that has helped bring the birth center’s rate of caesarean deliveries to well below the national average and has boosted breastfeeding rates among new moms, according to Lalumiere. A midwifery clinic, City of Oaks Midwifery, opened recently in a building adjacent to REX and moms interested in using a midwife for their birth can book appointments and start building a relationship with a midwife in addition to their OB/GYN physician.
“It’s a different type of care,” Lalumiere explains. “Midwives are trained as nurses and they tend to have a little more time with patients. Our patients recognize that and they like that aspect of care.”
Though traditional birth practices coupled with modern medicine are increasingly popular, giving birth in the U.S. doesn’t fully come without risks these days. And in North Carolina, unfortunately, there is a high rate of premature births and infant deaths that the state is working to address.
Over the past 15 years, maternal deaths and postpartum complications have increased sharply due to undetected blood loss, especially in cesarean deliveries. Last year, REX invested in a product, Triton, that monitors and quantifies blood loss using digital imaging—capturing photos of blood-soaked sponges and canisters of amniotic fluid and using machine learning to estimate the amount of blood lost—rather than having to rely on nurses’ and doctors’ visual estimates.
REX now uses Triton for all deliveries at the hospital and the product has been associated with significant increases in detecting maternal hemorrhaging during delivery. “We decided it was a much more accurate way of measuring blood loss and we have a protocol in place where, depending on how much blood the mom has lost, there are different interventions and medications to consider,” Lalumiere says.
At WakeMed, patients can use technology to track their own progress. When moms check in to deliver, they’re given an iPad with a program called MyChart Bedside that allows them to track their care.
“It’s the way we provide opportunities for additional education and information and access to everything while patients are in our care,” DeShazo says. There’s also an emphasis on the traditional mom and baby bonding methods at WakeMed hospitals. According to DeShazo, WakeMed boasts breastfeeding rates of 86 percent while patients are in the hospital’s care, as well as a 95 percent skin-to-skin contact rate at the time of delivery for uncomplicated births.
Supporting Babies and Families
In step with the hospital’s commitment to breastfeeding for moms and babies, WakeMed North recently opened a Milk Bank Depot where moms can donate breast milk to support vulnerable babies locally and in other states. Since it opened in September, the Milk Bank Depot collected 31,000 ounces, or 3,879 cups, of breastmilk in its first five months as part of a goal to collect 200,000 ounces of milk for yearly distribution.
“With moms having premature babies, or clinical conditions where breastfeeding isn’t something they’re able to do, donor milk is a way babies still get the advantage of having had breast milk in the early stages of life,” DeShazo says. “We are proud to be a part of supporting not just our local community but hospitals in other states across the country out of our lactation commitment.”
At REX, a new program supports babies and parents in a literal way. The Cuddlers program that launched last fall trains volunteers to hold, swaddle and comfort infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit under the guidance of nursing and medical staff.
“Studies show that human touch can decrease the length of a baby’s stay in the NICU,” Lalumiere says. “One of the most stressful things for parents is when they go back to work or have other children at home and can’t be in NICU 24/7. Having cuddlers step in to hold and comfort their baby when they can’t be there, we’re hoping reduces their stress and hopefully enhances their infants’ stay.”
An Elevated Experience
While technology and services clearly play a major role in local parents’ decisions about where to have their babies, like much in life there’s often an element of the intangible that tips the scales for where families choose to have their babies in one direction or another.
At WakeMed North, for instance, the goal is to make parents’ stay feel “more like a hotel than a hospital,” in De Shazo’s words. That means natural light and sliding barn doors in patients’ rooms, waffle robes, partnerships with a local spa for massages and facials, birthday celebrations complete with cake and sparkling cider and a take-home meal that feeds up to eight, so new parents don’t have to worry about cooking when they get home.
“When you walk through our hospital, there is spa music playing, no constant drone of overhead pages,” DeShazo says. “We’re really focusing on those little things that make the experience exceptional and personalized.”
For Beckstrand, the mom of eight, that intangible quality comes from the warm staff at REX who are always welcoming to her and her family. Oh, and also, the food.
“It’s not just the labor and delivery nurses, but the nursery nurses and the postpartum nurses … everyone is really great,” Beckstrand says. “And, it’s funny, I’m being serious, I really like their food! I get food delivered to me and it is actually good! So, the staff, the food, the facility was just always comforting. I know the hospital is sterile, but the experience is not.”