Growing a family is one of life’s most worthwhile experiences. Sure, pregnancy and birth – not to mention those early days and nights at home with a new baby – are fraught with challenges and risks, but the rewards are rich beyond measure. New parents know that when that tiny life they created looks up and smiles – or gurgles, hiccups or burps – every single difficult moment simply melts away. This is the ultimate joy of parenting.
As with every other aspect of the parenting experience, couples have important choices to make from the very beginning. Even before that positive pregnancy test, couples want to know that the health care team they partner with will absolutely provide the best care. From obstetrics to pediatrics and every step in between, parents-to-be expect the very best, and rightly so.
So, what do you need to know? We asked two experts from Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, a health care organization in seven counties of southeast Michigan, to share advice on what new parents should look out for when choosing health care partners for their journey through pregnancy and birth.
This is the experience of a lifetime, so create a plan.
When possible, careful planning for the big event should start early, St. Joe’s experts say.
Start with a frank conversation with your gynecologist about your plans for pregnancy, even before that positive pregnancy test. “See your OB/GYN physician prior, just to make a connection,” says Dr. Michael Gatt, an OB/GYN with St. Joe’s Medical Group Westside OB/GYN & Urogynecology and the chief quality officer for St. Mary Mercy Livonia.
It’s tempting to think that information you gather from the internet is all you need because it’s reliable and relevant, but that’s not always the case, Dr. Gatt says. “You can walk through your plans and the physician can answer any questions that are on your mind to give you clarity,” he says. “Some of the information that is out there is certainly well-intended but when it’s incorrect or highly specific, it can be confusing for patients. It might not be as evidence-based or clear as it should be.”
You can get the straight scoop from your doctor, and the information will either align with what you have learned or it will add clarity. “People tell me things that aren’t even close to being spot on, and that means patients are living with misconceptions that are allowing them to have a different health course than they could have because they held onto something they heard but didn’t know how to question it.”
Partner with your entire health system for best results.
As you select your physician to work with you throughout your pregnancy, recognize that you’ll also be partnering with a group of physicians, nurses and health care professionals who will form the team that will care for you – and eventually for your baby, too.
Begin to think broadly about your expectations from the entire health care team as well as the hospital where you’ll be giving birth to your baby.
“It’s important to find the right outpatient OB who is going to be in line with your goals for your pregnancy,” explains Dr. Amy Martin, director of neonatology at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac. “Generally, OBs choose to affiliate with hospitals that also align with their goals.”
Although you, your partner and everyone caring for you want the smoothest experience, sometimes events don’t go as planned. That’s why it makes sense to learn about the capabilities and credentials of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where you plan to give birth. If your baby needs a little extra support after joining the world, you’ll want to make sure the hospital’s NICU can support your baby’s needs, whatever they might be.
“Our NICU is Level 3, which means we are able to keep most babies in-house and don’t have to transfer them,” says Dr. Martin. “That’s certainly something to think about.”
St. Joe’s NICUs are licensed and staff are trained to care for premature babies as well as full-term babies 24/7. “If anything does go wrong, you want to know that your baby will be taken care of and that your baby will stay at the hospital where you are,” she says, adding that this distinction is especially important if you or your baby is at high risk for complications.
The health care team at St. Joe’s recognizes the critical importance of the parent-child bond. If the situation arises when you may be discharged before your baby is quite ready to leave the NICU, St. Joe’s makes it easy for you and your partner to stay close to your baby.
“If you are discharged and your baby needs to stay at the NICU, when possible, we will allow you to stay in your room if we have space,” says Dr. Martin. “If this isn’t possible, you can come back the next day and stay as much as you want in the NICU. You can call as much as you want and you can get as many updates as you want.”
A seamless experience means lots of behind-the-scenes communication.
The physician teams at St. Joe’s know that good communication means excellent care. With the goal of providing the most informed – and seamless – care possible, obstetricians and pediatricians meet to discuss the needs of patients even before their babies are born.
“Communication in every aspect of the experience is key,” Dr. Martin says. “What I love about working at St. Joe’s is that right from the beginning, the OBs who deliver here have a great relationship with our pediatricians and neonatologists. If there is a high-risk delivery coming up or a patient they consider to be high risk, they let us know.”
In some cases, expectant moms and their partners can put a name to a face by meeting with NICU staff prior to the birth. “It’s super important to me to go into a delivery room and have a mom say ‘I remember you,'” Dr. Martin says.
Communication continues after birth, as OBs always want to know how their patients’ babies are progressing. “I love that our OBs feel comfortable with us at the NICU and they always call me to get updates after baby is born,” says Dr. Martin. “Families don’t always know that this great level of communication between these different departments happens, and sometimes they are surprised we know so much about them. It’s the little things that are important.”
Safety is always top priority, even before COVID-19.
Chances are you’ll be experiencing your pregnancy and birth during some stage of the coronavirus pandemic, and without a doubt, the timing provides an extra challenge. But the good news is that most pregnancies and births during this time have had safe and healthy outcomes.
St. Joe’s follows all public health guidelines set forth by MDHHS and puts safety at the top of the list for new parents and babies. “We have not restricted fathers or partners from being at the delivery, and moms have never had to be alone,” Dr. Martin explains.
“While different family members may not be able to visit, we’ve had some good feedback from parents who were nervous about this,” she says. Some new families appreciated the uninterrupted 24 to 48 hours when they could get to know their baby and spend time as a tiny family.
“We are really trying as much as we can to keep families together, so when we are allowed to open visitation, we will do so immediately and make those changes quickly,” she says.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic created a new normal for families, St. Joe’s implemented a quality standard that stands on a foundation of safety.
“We have a number of different quality initiatives, which are collaboratives designed to ensure we all perform with excellence,” explains Dr. Gatt. “Safety is our top priority and we work hard to create a healthy, safe environment for mom and dad to deliver in,” Dr. Gatt says. “It’s important to know that we have contemporary physicians and contemporary facilities and all the support needed to create a safe, healthy and enjoyable environment.”