ST. LOUIS — The hospital in the St. Louis area that delivers the most babies will soon offer an option for midwife-led births, part of a growing trend as more women seek natural childbirth.
Mercy Hospital St. Louis said Thursday that patients are now being accepted for prenatal care at its Mercy Birthing Center, which will open in September. Mercy officials said it will give women the option of a birth without medical intervention that's overseen by a midwife, but with medical personnel nearby in case of complications.
The center will feature four birthing suites that resemble a home bedroom, with queen-sized beds, showers and large tubs for labor. A central living room area provides a place for relatives to gather. There is also a kitchen, a space for childbirth classes and a clinical area where patients and the midwife can have monthly prenatal visits during pregnancy.
"We listened to the community and found that many women want a home-like birth with support of a midwife," Trish Geldbach, vice president of Women's Services at Mercy, said in a news release. "While natural births are done every day in our Labor and Birth suites, this new Birthing Center will offer women an alternative to birthing at home with the safety net of medical care an elevator ride away."
A report released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said home births have risen to their highest level in about four decades, though they are only a fraction of all U.S. births — a little more than 1 percent.
Women using the Mercy Birthing Center will have care provided throughout pregnancy by midwives who are nurses certified by the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Natural childbirth classes will also be offered, along with nutrition and fitness classes.
Officials at Mercy, which ranks 15th nationally with around 8,000 births each year, said that most mothers and babies in the birthing center will go home four to 12 hours after birth. They'll return for follow-up care a couple of days later.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that another St. Louis-area hospital, St. Mary's Health Center, already has certified nurse midwives caring for women and delivering babies, and the Missouri Baptist Medical Center is months away from finishing the protocols and credentialing process for certified nurse midwives to deliver babies there.
The American Association of Birth Centers' website says there are 255 birth centers in 37 states and the District of Columbia — a 30 percent increase since 2010. Missouri currently has just one, the Birth and Wellness Center in O'Fallon.