New birth centre to open at St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s Road

Centre designed to provide home-like settings for low-risk births

Labour in comfort: Designed by MMP Architects and Interior Design, the new women’s birth centre features four birth rooms, as well as a kitchen and lounge for family members, children’s play areas for children and an outdoor green space. Dylan Hewlett

Winnipeg’s new birth centre will celebrate its grand opening Oct. 16.

The centre, at the junction of St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s Road, is designed to provide a home-like setting for low-risk births. It will be staffed by midwives, medical assistants, health educators, counsellors - and no doctors. 

The centre will offer prenatal, birthing and postpartum care for mothers and their families, as well as counselling services and health education on parenting and newborn care.

Women giving birth at the centre will be screened to meet the same criteria for low-risk pregnancy as do candidates for a home birth, said Valerie Regehr, acting director of the birth centre.

“They’re assessed at the beginning of their pregnancy, and they’re also assessed again when they are ready to give birth, to make sure everything is still going along as assumed,” she said.

The centre is located about 10 minutes from the St. Boniface Hospital, Regehr said. It has four birth rooms, as well as a kitchen and lounge for family members. It offers play areas for children and child-minding services. Women in labour will have access to outdoor green space. 

“I know that the Women’s Health Clinic is partnering with this and they have a longstanding tradition of putting women at the centre of health care,” said Fiona Green of the University of Winnipeg’s department of women’s and gender studies. 

Green said a hospital tends to have more rigid expectations for the amount of time allowed for each stage of the birth process before intervening with invasive procedures.

“So she’s put onto the time frame of the hospital, or the doctor’s time frame, whereas in a birthing centre it’s woman-centred, so the process takes the amount of time it’s going to take,” she said.

The WRHA has hired four additional midwives to staff the birthing centre, Regehr said. The WRHA also offers midwifery services through the Women’s Health Clinic, Health Action Centre, Mount Carmel Clinic and River East Midwifery. These midwives offer similar services to the birthing centre, but with a choice of a hospital or home birth. 

In Manitoba, about 20 per cent of midwife-attended births are in the family’s home, and 80 per cent in hospitals. Midwives are able to order tests such as blood work and ultrasounds, prescribe certain medications and consult with doctors when needed.

Provincial funding for midwifery services began in 2000, with the introduction of Manitoba’s Midwifery Act. The Act established the College of Midwives of Manitoba as the regulatory body for the profession.

Natalie Wright is director of communications for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC).

“The SOGC is a strong supporter of midwifery,” she said.

The SOGC supports the development of a National Birthing Initiative to address the severe shortage of maternal health-care providers in Canada.

“Human resources in maternity care are drastically diminishing,” a 2008 SOGC report noted. “There are insufficient registered midwives to fill the void left by obstetricians and family doctors who are no longer ... delivering babies. The university education programs require funded spaces to meet enrolment demand.”

In 2006, the University College of the North introduced its four-year bachelor of midwifery program in the Pas. The program was expanded to Winnipeg last year.

So far all WRHA midwives have been trained out of province, Regehr said.

Published in Volume 66, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 12, 2011)

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