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Natural births offered in a homelike setting at UF Health Birth Center

Published: December 12, 2014
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The midwife-led birth center will offer family-centered care and alternative delivery options like water births

Moms-to-be have many months to contemplate where and how their babies will come into the world, and a growing number are looking for something very different than a standard hospital room.

At the UF Health Birth Center, opening March 2, 2015, in North Jacksonville, births will take place in a homelike setting that accommodates natural births in alternative locations like bedrooms and heated whirlpool tubs. Geared for women experiencing low-risk pregnancies who want to employ methods other than anesthesia to give birth, the center will be staffed with a team of midwives who “catch” the babies and support the family from beginning to end.

Cynthia Williams, ARNP, CNM

Cynthia Williams, ARNP, CNM
Director, Birth Center

“This is what a lot of women in our community want and we’re listening to them. These are educated, strong women who want to be a partner in their care. We want to support and empower them,” said Birth Center Director Cynthia Williams, ARNP, CNM, a longtime UF Health midwife.

The entrance to the center will look like a living room, with comfortable couches and a kids’ play area. There will also be a kitchenette where family members can prepare their own food. The two birth suites will have plush beds, oversized spa tubs, showers, and room to accommodate any loved ones mom wants nearby. There also will be a room for treatments like massages and acupuncture.

When a woman in labor comes to the birth center, she will be free to walk around; eat and drink what she wants; wear her own clothes; and use the tub and shower any time during her labor and birth.

“For some women, the unfamiliarity of a hospital setting can make them feel more stress. For them, being in a place they are familiar with, prepared about what to expect and accompanied by people they know, might be even better than an epidural,” Williams said.

After spending more than a decade working for UF Health, Williams said she has only praise for the traditional obstetrics and gynecology department and the birth process at the hospital. But, for women who want an alternative, she said the birth center offers a different experience. Midwives are able to spend more time with moms-to-be, getting to know them and their families during family-centered prenatal visits. When it’s time for the baby to arrive, they give the mom as much control as possible, standing by as support. Williams said the midwives are a “complement” to the care of the whole department, which will still offer ultrasound, consultations and as-needed transfer care for women planning to deliver at the birth center.

Guy I. Benrubi, MD, FACOG

Guy I. Benrubi, MD, FACOG

“This is something a lot of women want, and we want to provide it for them, but we want to do it in the safest way possible,” said Guy Benrubi, MD, FACOG, University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville senior associate dean for faculty affairs and chair of obstetrics and gynecology. “Cindy Williams is probably the best person in the country for this position because she’s a certified midwife, she used to be a labor and delivery nurse, and she was the nurse manager of our research division.”

Benrubi said Williams’ unique skill set gives her an exceptionally strong understanding of the mothers’ needs, the safest standards for the birth center, and the signs that will determine whether a birth is suited for the center or not.

The birth center is designed for women having healthy, low-risk pregnancies who are projected to have normal deliveries. Women experiencing high-risk pregnancies and women with chronic conditions are welcome to receive prenatal care and support at the center with physician collaboration, but will not be able to deliver there. A screening process will determine whether the mom-to-be is eligible.

If something unexpected does happen, the center’s affiliation with UF Health Jacksonville makes it one-of-a-kind in the region. In the very rare case that a mom-to-be has to be sent to the hospital during labor, ambulances are stationed at the UF Health North complex. Midwives will be able to board the ambulance with the family and continue their care at the hospital downtown. The connection between the birth center and the hospital also means that electronic medical records will readily be available to hospital staff, making a smooth transition for the mom-to-be if she needs to move to the hospital.

After the baby is born, families will typically stay in the birth center for about four hours. When both mom and baby are stable and meet discharge goals, they can go home and continue care there. The midwife will explain what to look for at home and when to call for help. Postpartum calls and visits are scheduled and the center will notify the family’s pediatrician of the birth.

Use of the birth center is covered by many major insurance companies the same way a traditional hospital birth is covered. Since the length of the mom’s and baby’s stay is so much shorter, the overall cost is about half the cost of a traditional birth, Williams said.

The center will not just be a place to give birth, but also a place to learn, find support and receive prenatal care. Williams plans to offer classes in areas like nutrition, lactation and childbirth education. In the future, she also hopes to offer prenatal yoga and postpartum recovery fitness classes. The center will have a midwife on call to answer questions 24 hours a day and will offer mothers referrals for doulas and other community resources.

People often ask Williams why a woman would want to have a natural birth without medication. Williams compares it to running a marathon.

“You train and prepare for it, and other people might think you’re crazy for wanting to do that hard work,” she said. “But when you accomplish it or even attempt it, you are transformed by the incredible process and it changes you forever.”

If you’re interested in learning more:

The UF Health Birth Center opens March 2, 2015.

Moms-to-be who would like to give birth at the center can email for more information.

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For more information, please contact:
UF Health Media Relations