Expectant parents in Bloomington-Normal are lucky. Some communities in Illinois have lost their baby unit at their local hospital, forcing a long drive at an … inopportune time.
In Bloomington-Normal, there are four primary options: the two hospitals, Carle BroMenn and OSF HealthCare St. Joseph; the fast-growing Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal; and home birth.
Here’s a look at how they compare on the following topics:
Rooms and privacy
Carle BroMenn’s mother-baby unit is bigger and delivers more babies each year – about 65% of babies in Bloomington-Normal.
Carle BroMenn’s current mother-baby unit opened in 2012. It has 28 rooms, including 18 for traditional labor, deliver, recover, and postpartem (LDRP) all in the same private room.
OSF St. Joseph’s current birthing unit opened in 2011. It has 14 private rooms.
Elizabeth Robertson of Bloomington chose Carle when she delivered her son last May. On the morning of her scheduled non-emergency induction, Carle called her and said they were too busy with laboring moms to bring her in. It turns out Robertson went into labor herself anyway, so she went in.
“Even with as busy as they were, they were fantastic. So sweet and so kind and stayed on top of everything,” Robertson said.
The Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal opened in 2016 and has done over 800 births. It has three birth suites. It’s run by midwives and offers what it calls a “personal, private, family-centered birth experience.”
About 80-85% of pregnancies are considered low risk and eligible for delivery at the Birth Center, said Stephanie Harper, administrator at the Birth Center. Its noninterventional approach means that certain higher-risk pregnancies aren’t allowed, such as twin births, moms medicated for blood pressure, or babies that are not head down.
“But as far as risking patients out, it’s very individualized, and we’re looking at each patient’s history when they come in and just making sure there’s nothing that might elevate their level of care that they need,” said director of midwifery Amy Hill.
Visitors and support team
At Carle BroMenn, up to three support people are allowed in the room for labor and delivery, with no swapping. During the postpartum stay, two masked visitors are allowed and can rotate. Siblings are allowed to visit, but no one else under age 18.
At OSF St. Joseph, you are allowed three visitors in your room during labor, and then two during delivery, according to its website.
“We encourage those giving birth and new mothers to have their support person with them in the room. We may limit visitors depending on the mother’s preference, or if there’s a high level of illness in the community. But we want to ensure the safety of the newborn and the mother,” said Sheri Piper, director of nursing practice and operations at OSF St. Joseph.
At the Birth Center, there’s no limit on the number of support people or visitors. “We try to honor the parents’ wishes of who they feel are essential persons to have at their birth,” said Harper.
The pain management options at OSF and Carle are similar, such as IV pain medications, epidural, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas).
Both hospitals also offer hydrotherapy during labor (immersion in water), birthing and peanut balls, and showers in all patient rooms.
“(Expectant moms) definitely want to know what their options are, whether they’re thinking they want to deliver all-natural but also in the event they change their mind. And I do encourage patients to have an open mind,” said Heidi Kim, OSF St. Joseph’s nurse navigator for the baby unit. “But I do feel like we have all the things patients are looking for.”
The Birth Center is “all physiological birth,” so it offers nitrous oxide for pain relief but no epidurals.
“A foundation of coping mechanisms and the amount of the education we provide patients throughout their pregnancy to prepare them for birth is really what leads them to that successful natural childbirth,” said Hill, the director of midwifery. “We’re very transparent that we don’t do labor epidurals here, and if that’s something they want, the hospital is the right place for them.”
The Birth Center does offer something the hospitals can’t: water births.
“That’s been a really big deciding factor for a lot of families lately. A lot of families are starting to want that (water birth),” said Shelby Springer, a birth doula and photographer who’s given birth herself at a hospital, at the Birth Center, and at home.
Neonatologists have the special training required to evaluate and treat newborns’ medical problems.
OSF St. Joseph says it has 24/7 neonatology provider coverage on the unit. “So they’re always here on our unit, 24/7,” said Piper.
Carle BroMenn has a full-time board-certified neonatologist on site on weekdays and available to be on site 24/7, if needed. The neonatologist remains on site when anticipating or caring for a newborn requiring a higher level of medical care.
“So in the event we need them, they’re readily available,” said Keli Sidebottom, nursing supervisor and unit educator at Carle BroMenn.
Ashley Ott of Bloomington delivered her daughter in 2021. She chose Carle, in part because it had that neonatologist. They found out during pregnancy that her daughter was missing one of her hands and had a kidney issue.
“They didn’t know if there were any other issues that were going on. So just having somebody that could be there when she was delivered that could intervene immediately was my main thing,” Ott said. “I was also told I couldn’t have kids. So when I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to make sure everything goes smooth, how it’s supposed to.”
Nurses and other staffing
Both hospitals highly tout their nursing and physician staffs.
Carle BroMenn has an obstetrician (OB) in the hospital at all times – a differentiator.
“Having the availability of an obstetrician right here in house if an emergency happens, that’s amazing from a safety standpoint,” said Sidebottom.
OSF St. Joseph has 24/7 call coverage by an OB provider group and 24/7 call coverage for patients who do not have an OB doctor. They are available to come when called.
“St. Joe’s is a great hospital. This isn’t a knock on St. Joe’s at all. But when you deliver 70% of the babies here in town (like Carle does), that means they give you more resources,” said Dr. Joseph Santiago, an OB who has delivered babies at both hospitals. “It’s busier. You deliver more babies. So the hospital recognizes that, and you get more resources.”
OSF says one of its differentiators is its Nurse Navigator personalized care program, offered free to all patients. Provided from 20 weeks through postpartem, the Nurse Navigator helps patients with private tours of the baby unit, pre-registration, and other insight, advice and guidance.
Megan Elkins of Bloomington delivered her daughter last September at OSF St. Joseph. She said her Nurse Navigator was very helpful.
“Ours was great. I think I would have been lost without her, because we were first-time parents. We’d never gone through this before and were just navigating it ourselves. That was an added bonus,” Elkins said.
OSF is the only Baby-Friendly designated facility in Bloomington-Normal, meaning staff are trained regarding the care of breastfeeding mothers and babies.
Both hospitals are gold-level Safe Sleep certified by the organization Cribs for Kids, recognizing their commitment to infant safe sleep to reduce the risk of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID), Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB), SIDS, and unsafe sleep injuries.
Doulas are welcome at both hospitals, and at the Birth Center, which is managed by midwives.
Vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC)
Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) means giving birth through your vagina after giving birth previously by cesarean section (C-section). Because the surgical cut during the C-section results in a scar on your uterus, there is concern that the pressure of labor could cause your uterus to open (rupture) along the scar. Uterine rupture is rare but is life-threatening.
Both Bloomington-Normal hospitals allow VBAC deliveries. Those who’ve had one prior C-section are also eligible for a VBAC at the Birth Center.
“That’s something that’s relatively new the last couple of years, that we’ve started taking the VBAC patients at the Birth Center, just because their options are limited,” said Amy Hill. “And so we want to give them a fair chance to have that vaginal birth if they’re a good candidate.”
Tubal ligation is a surgical procedure to prevent pregnancy. It has commonly been called “getting your tubes tied.” Tubal ligation can be done at any time, including after childbirth or in combination with a C-section.
Carle BroMenn allows tubal ligation procedures. OSF St. Joseph does not.
“We are a Catholic healthcare organization, and we do not offer those procedures as part of normal delivery, because of the teachings of the Catholic Church. So that would be a discussion with a physician, with their care provider, on how to achieve that,” said OSF spokesperson Shelli Dankoff.
COVID-19 and, more recently, the spread of RSV and other seasonal illness have disrupted visitor access to hospitals.
OSF St. Joseph’s baby unit is currently offering private tours of its baby unit. Call (309) 665-4874 to schedule your tour or submit a request online.
Carle BroMenn is not currently offering in-person tours due to RSV and flu season, although that changes pretty frequently. A virtual tour is available online.
The Birth Center offers a virtual tour online, or you can call and schedule an in-person tour.
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