Those running a standalone birthing center in Bloomington-Normal say they’ve seen increased interest from expectant moms who have concerns about delivering at a hospital because of COVID-19.
To be clear: It’s still safe to deliver at a hospital, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal says some pregnant women are drawn to what they describe as a calmer, less restrictive setting, especially right now.
“Our phone’s been ringing quite a bit,” said Amy Hill, advanced practice nurse and director of midwifery at the Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal.
Hill’s accredited center bills itself as the only freestanding birthing center in Illinois. It’s located at 6 Westport Court on Bloomington’s east side.
To accommodate the extra interest, the Birth Center has made some exceptions to transfer in new low-risk patients later into their pregnancy—up to 38 weeks along, instead of 32 weeks or sooner.
“I don’t think patients should be fearful of going into the hospital,” said Birth Center administrator Stephanie Harper. “We just want moms to know they have options and to advocate for themselves and to feel supported during this time when they may be feeling a little bit isolated or fearful.”
Some moms are attracted to a less restrictive environment for visitors, Hill and Harper said. Due to the coronavirus, OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington allows one support person during childbirth. Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal allows “one companion and, if applicable, a doula.”
Others may find it more cost-effective. Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal claims its deliveries cost patients on average 30% less than at the hospital. Harper says they’re contracted and in-network with most insurers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Health Alliance and United Healthcare.
“We’ve had moms already give birth here who came to us specifically because of the pandemic,” Harper said.
Around 85% of pregnancies are considered low-risk, making them a good fit for the birthing center environment, said Hill. The center doesn’t take riskier patients, such as those with twins.
More than 315 babies have been delivered at the center since it opened in 2016. Around 20 moms were due in May.
In the U.S., 98.8% of births take place in hospital labor and delivery units, with physicians attending 86% of these births, according to the American Association of Birth Centers. In contrast, 0.3% of births take place in birth centers, where nurse-midwives and midwives provide most of the care.
While birth centers have served low-risk mothers in other states since the 1970s, they’ve only been allowed in Illinois since around 2015, said Hill and Harper.
“Illinois is a little behind the times,” Harper said.
We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.