Terre Haute Hospital Unveils New Mother-Baby Unit

Union Hospital, a not-for-profit healthcare center that services Terre Haute and the greater Wabash Valley, christened its brand new mother-baby unit today.

At a cost of $3 million, renovations transformed the third floor of the hospital’s west building over four months, creating the space and resources to provide neonatal care for 30 mother-baby couplets immediately after birth—double the hospital’s prior capacity.

Jennifer Harrah, nursing care manager of the newborn intensive care and pediatrics, says the founding of the unit comes in the wake of increasing rates of births in the area. 

“Our hospital over the last four years has consistently had an increase in our birth rate,” she says. “We were on a 15-bed post-partum unit. And with the opening of our new labor and delivery and newborn intensive care last July, we saw an even more increase in our birth rate. And 15 beds just were not enough for our patients.”

The revamped unit combines nursing care for mothers and babies that was, prior to its opening, separated between post-partum care for mothers and nursery care for their newborns. Mother-baby couplets now stay and sleep together in the same room and spend more time with one another than is often possible in traditional approaches to neonatal care.

Desiree Hensel, assistant professor of nursing at Indiana University-Bloomington, says this unified strategy yields several benefits.

“We know that when mothers and babies stay together, it promotes better breast feeding,” she says. “That’s simply the best reason.”

Centers like Union Hospital’s mother-baby unit are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, Hensel says, simply because of their success in advocating for breastfeeding, which the World Health Organization regards as an essential step to ensuring healthy infant development.   

But bonding time through cohabitation also provides a significant boon for both those mothers who choose to breastfeed and those who do not. The chance to take up more responsibility for the care of their newborns in the hospital after delivery also provides gives mothers a practice run of the care they’ll be giving after returning home.

“The more the mom provides the care for the baby instead of the nurse, the more that we are really improving their self efficacy,” Hensel says. “We acknowledge that the parent is the primary care giver, not the nurse. They’re going to be the ones who care for the baby when they leave the hospital. So the best we can do is promote that self efficacy in moms and reassure them that they’re doing a good job and help guide them when they need it.”

Hospital officials will soon begin applying for accreditation from World Health Organization, designating its mother-baby unit as an official Baby Friendly health center. The Baby Friendly campaign advocates for mother-newborn cohabitation after birth with the purpose of strengthening bonding between mother and child, facilitating breastfeeding and providing firsthand education for new mothers on strategies for proper infant care.

The renovations of the mother-baby unit was Union Hospital’s second construction project for maternal child services in recent years. It opened its new labor and delivery and newborn intensive care center last July.

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