Knowledge is Strength in Mom’s Hands

Every mother wants what’s best for her baby, from conception to infancy, and thanks to advancements in our region, mothers have more control over their care than ever before.

This past July, FHN in Freeport hosted a first-of-its-kind community breakfast for mothers who had recently delivered babies within the regional health care system.

Seven mothers showed up to share their insights from the hospital experience.
While the mothers felt they were treated respectfully, their biggest concern was a desire to be part of decisions as they happen during their labor and delivery, says Linn Carter, the women’s health service line director at FHN.

“They want to be part of the decision if a C-section is needed,” Carter says. “It is important to them that they have some decision-making abilities during their care. And that makes sense.”

It’s a trend that’s been recognized across northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, as health care providers make strides to put women in charge of their health, especially when it comes to childbirth.

“Sometimes, health care professionals are doing their jobs and they forget to let patients know what’s going on,” Carter says. “There is a renewed awareness that this is really important. The more opportunities we have to give women a choice, the more we foster a partnership with our patients. We allow them opportunities to make decisions so they feel they are in control as much as possible.

From a new freestanding birth center to childhood immunizations to support for mothers, health care leaders are putting mom front and center for the entire family’s success.
“The more information you get and the more control you feel, it really does make for a great experience,” Carter says. “You can just feel it.”

Initiatives for Mothers, Babies

FHN is one of many hospitals that participates in the Illinois Perinatal Quality Collaborative (ILPQC), a statewide network of hospital teams, perinatal clinicians, patients, public health leaders and policymakers working to improve health care for mothers and babies.

FHN has been participating in two ILPQC initiatives: promoting vaginal births and working toward “birth equity.”

“We know that if we can help prevent that first C-section, that’s really good for moms and babies,” Carter says.

According to the National Library of Medicine, C-sections are the most common surgery performed in the U.S., with more than 1 million women delivering by cesarean each year.

“A cesarean is a major abominable surgery, and any time you do a major surgery, you’re introducing the potential risk for infection and bleeding,” Carter says. “Certainly, there are times when you need to perform a C-section to save the mother and/or the baby’s life.”

FHN promotes strategies for active movement during labor, such as the Spinning Babies program.
“This is a course that labor and delivery nurses take,” Carter says. “They learn different positions and exercises and things they can do with women during labor. The moms are taught these techniques prenatally, but we can put women in these positions during labor. Almost all of our nurses have gone through it; it is something that is very much supported here at FHN.”

The health system is also working on initiatives around “birth equity,” the assurance that every patient can receive an optimal outcome. Since January, every mother entering an FHN prenatal office has been screened for social determinants of health, Carter says.

“Does she have food insecurity? Is there something we can do to support her to get her connected to local food banks?” Carter asks. “Does she have the ability to get where she needs to go for her doctor’s appointments? Does she have trouble paying rent? We try to identify early these social determinants that may factor in their prenatal care.”

Once mothers have their baby, they are screened again for the same social determinants, Carter says.

“If they screen positive, they’re connected with a complex care manager who connects them with resources,” Carter says.

FHN also has been collaborating with the Stephenson County Health Department to form a breastfeeding task force to support nursing mothers. A support group currently meets twice a month to provide peer counseling, Carter says.

“We know that if one mother has a positive experience with breastfeeding, she will influence four other women to breastfeed,” Carter says. “That’s important because it’s about supporting each other.”

When there’s a support system outside the hospital, moms are more likely to continue breastfeeding, says Carter.

Breastmilk is known to contain everything a baby needs to grow healthfully, including unique vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and antibodies. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of diarrhea, vomiting, ear infections, respiratory infections such as RSV, and whooping cough.

And for mothers, breastfeeding can reduce the risk of postpartum depression, Carter notes. Later, it can reduce the risk of developing various cancers, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

“There are so many benefits,” Carter says.

Fighting RSV

Dr. Mary Baldauf’s goal in life is to be unemployed.

“I would love to never have any babies and children in the ICU,” says Baldauf, a pediatric intensive care physician at OSF HealthCare who has more than two decades of experience working with critically sick children.

With the aid of a new vaccine that could become available this fall, she’s hopeful she’s one step closer toward her goal.

Most parents recognize the letters RSV – which stand for respiratory syncytial virus – though they hope never to hear them associated with their infant.

“RSV is very prevalent in the community in the fall, which is commonly a virus season,” says Baldauf. “What it does is it affects two out of every three babies by their first birthday and almost every baby by the time they’re 2 years old.”

This virus attacks the lungs directly, and it causes a lot of breathing problems, hospitalizations and even death sometimes, Baldauf says.

“You need a lot of care to get over it,” Baldauf says. “There’s no medication for it, because it’s a virus, not a bacterium. Your best form of protection is to try to prevent it from attacking your lungs in the first place.”

In the womb, babies utilize the immune systems of their mothers to stay healthy. But when they’re born, “they kind of have to start fresh and build up their immune system in little steps,” Baldauf says.

Traditional vaccines help the body produce immune responses by building antibodies against a virus.

For a number of years, there has been an alternative vaccine known as SYNAGIS that uses monoclonal antibodies – or lab-made antibodies – that are injected directly into an infant.

“Your baby’s body does not have to mount an immune response to this,” Baldauf says. “All your other vaccines basically are injections of antigen that spark your body to make antibodies. That takes several weeks usually. These are antibodies they’re injecting – it attaches itself to the RSV and prevents it from fusing with the cells in your lungs and invading your lungs and causing pneumonia.”

SYNAGIS has been an excellent monoclonal antibody vaccine, Baldauf says, but it was only approved for a small group of particularly vulnerable infants: those born prematurely with severe heart or lung problems at birth.

“Your full-term baby or healthy baby born just a few weeks early was left completely unprotected except for their own devices,” Baldauf says.

However, in July, the FDA approved a new medication with basically the same mechanism that is found in SYNAGIS, known as Beyfortus.

This vaccine can be administered at the same time as other newborn immunizations, as long as it’s injected into the opposite leg, Baldauf says. And it’s a one-time shot.

“It’s so new people won’t know about it,” she says. “The game-changer about this is it’s approved for all infants and babies that are headed into their first RSV season, which is coming up in the next few months.”

On Aug. 3, the CDC provided its recommendation for infants younger than 8 months – and some older, but more vulnerable babies – to add Beyfortus to their immunizations.

The manufacturer of Beyfortus has already started to ramp up production so it can be available in the U.S. by this fall, Baldauf says.

“It’s already approved in Canada, in the U.K. and in Europe,” she says. “It’s been shown to reduce severe infections of RSV by about 80%.”

Every parent has his or her own opinion regarding immunizations, Baldauf says, and that’s OK. But parents should educate themselves about what health options are available to their children.

Last year was an unusual year because babies coming into the hospital with RSV were born during the pandemic, had been isolated much of their lives and “had no immunity whatsoever,” Baldauf says.

“So many babies had RSV and needed life support,” she says. “That was tough to see the babies and parents go through that. So, as a physician, I would love to see a smattering of RSV and not so many severely ill babies. As a mom, I would give Beyfortus to my children as soon as it was available if I had newborns.

New Options for Health Care in Labor

As mothers become more educated about birthing opportunities, many are opting to try something a little different than the traditional hospital route.

In fact, there has recently been a “huge trend” of out-of-hospital births, says Jen Geary, a nurse of 19 years and the first outreach and education coordinator of NorthPointe Birth Center, a brand-new freestanding building located on the NorthPointe Health and Wellness Campus in Roscoe, Ill., which is part of Beloit Health System.

In 2021, there were 50,000 home births in the U.S. – a 12% increase from 2020, and the most recorded since 1990, Geary says.

“With the 2020 rise, a lot of places thought it was due to COVID and people not wanting to be in the hospitals for deliveries,” Geary says. “But the fact that it has continued to rise just goes to show that there is a desire for moms to have more options for delivery. Some people will always need hospital deliveries, but there’s a growing number of people who want more options.”

NorthPointe is set to open the birthing center Oct. 1. After that, moms will have a homelike atmosphere in which to deliver their babies, Geary says. The center primarily will be run by midwives, with registered nurses serving as birth assistants.

Three birthing suites – each with their own vibe and distinct features – will have a queen-size bed, separate tub to labor in, support bars, birthing balls and more.

The other side of the center will include a full-size kitchen open to clients, families and staff, as well as a common seating area with a fireplace for families to connect or network with other families.
Four clinic rooms will be available for midwives to see patients for prenatal and postpartum visits, and there also is space for classes.

“We really stress education for our patients,” says Jamie Turner-Rose, a Certified Nurse-Midwife who has worked in labor and delivery for 20 years. “We’ll have prenatal classes in the birth center, and personal prenatal visits will last 30 minutes to an hour – not the 15-minute visits some of us have experienced in the past.”

“Our education is not just available to our patients,” she adds. “If someone is in need of a birthing class and they’re not our patient, it will be available to them, because everyone deserves that. I personally believe every pregnant person should know all their options, and it’s our duty to provide all of the information to make their own decisions.”

In order to utilize the services of NorthPointe Birth Center, pregnant mothers must have a low-risk pregnancy, Geary says. This accounts for roughly 85% of women who deliver in hospitals, she adds, so a good portion of mothers-to-be could consider the birth center.

“When they first reach out to us, we go through an extensive screening process to make sure they are an eligible candidate for the birth center,” Geary says. “Then, through visits, we see if they risk out for any reason. Or, if there is any concern, the medical director who oversees the facility and midwives can talk to us about a plan.”

One thing to know, however, is that there’s a vast difference in pain management options provided by the birth center versus a hospital, says Turner-Rose.

“We don’t offer IV pain medication; we don’t offer epidural,” she says. “We do offer water birth, freedom of movement, ability to eat through labor – a lot of choices people can make to make themselves more comfortable. There are people really looking for that different experience who don’t want to have the hospital experience – they want a more natural experience in their birth experience, whether it’s their first or third or sixth baby.”

However, in the middle of labor, if a mother changes her mind about wanting pain medication, “that’s OK,” Turner-Rose says. “Then we take a trip over to the hospital to get that pain medication. That is still an option.”

“Our goal will be to make anyone who comes to see us really comfortable and let us know their needs, and we will be sharing their options with them,” Turner-Rose adds. “With those 30-minute and hour-long appointments, there’s that opportunity to cover all the bases and answer all the questions to make sure they’re comfortable with the care they’re receiving.”