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Where and how to have a baby in Orange County

On Jan. 12 at 8:04 a.m. Erin and Shane Stevens welcomed Piper into the world. The Lake Forest couple had chosen Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo to have their first child, as it was right next door to Erin’s doctor who would be delivering the baby. Shane Stevens said he was glad he was able to stay with his wife and newborn in the room on the couch that turned into a bed.

“The experience was fluid and seamless. Every one was amazing. And the food is surprisingly good,” said Erin. “Plus, we had a photographer take newborn shots of Piper and us. We didn’t even think of that. The hospital offers (it as) a service. Now we have professional photos to mark the day.”

In 2012, 98.6 percent of all U.S. births occurred in hospitals, according to the National Vital Statistics Report that was released in December. Luckily, many cities in and near Orange County rank among the best in the nation for new mom and baby care. According to a recent study, the city of Riverside ranked No. 3 in the nation, and in the No. 7 spot was a three-way tie between the cities of Anaheim, Irvine and Santa Ana. Due to the high level of care, available technology and number of options, expecting parents have a tough choice to make when deciding on a hospital.

Dr. Patrick Roth of Kaiser Permanente suggests looking at a facility’s Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers System (HCAHPS) report, where patients rate the service and care they’ve received. You can Google your hospital’s report. Data is provided on how well doctors and nurses communicate with patients, how well a patient’s pain was controlled and much more information.

In addition to looking over HCAHPS, be sure to tour multiple facilities. Meet the staff, check out the labor, delivery and patient rooms, and understand its mission of care.

Some hospitals and birthing centers provide virtual tours. Many area hospitals offer monthly tours of their facilities and a chance to meet some of the nurses and doctors. Check out the rooms where you will be laboring, delivering and recovering. Many Orange County hospitals have private suites so that the non-laboring parent doesn’t have to leave mom and baby.

Nearly all of the women’s health centers in Orange County have recently been redesigned, so the rooms look and almost feel like hotel rooms. Also, many hospitals have instituted a concierge approach to maternity care. At Mission Hospital, patients as well as the public can get a massage at its Women’s Wellness Center. The Women’s Hospital at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center provides washcloths every morning that smell like lavender and volunteers bake cookies for “aroma therapy.”

Another item for expecting parents to examine is the availability of resources. Prenatal health is just as important as postpartum well-being. Some classes may be for members only, while some are open to the public and available online. Mission Hospital has teamed with the South County Resource Center to provide breastfeeding and parenting classes, as well as support groups for parents. Saddleback Memorial Medical Center recently added a new class to its line up called “Planning for Pregnancy After 35.” Kaiser and Hoag also offer an array of classes for parents.

Once you’ve done your homework on a facility and its services, search for the right doctor. Just as an employer is looking for the right candidate that aligns with a company’s principles, couples are advised to seek an obstetrician that lines up with their birthing plan.

“We encourage our patients to have a birth plan and review it ahead of time with their doctor,” said Dr. Roth. Many hospitals are open to other “alternative” laboring methods. Kaiser, for example, where Dr. Roth works, has midwives on staff as an option for its patients.

“We work with patients that want to do the Bradley Method or a HypnoBirthing, and attempt to honor those wishes, but safety of the baby is the No. 1 priority,” said Dr. Jeffrey Illeck of Hoag.

At the root of it, said Terri Deeds, executive director of women’s and children’s services at Saddleback Memorial Hospital in Laguna Hills, is to “find a physician of the same mind.”

New mom Nicole Bonilla of Santa Ana broached the conversation with her OB-GYN about having a natural birth, when her doctor asked her, “Why do you want that?” Bonilla was taking classes on the Bradley Method when her teacher advised her that she might want to look for another physician. She found another doctor, but at each appointment she only met with the nurse practitioner. At 32 weeks, having never seen the doctor that was going to be delivering her baby, she sought out a birth center on a recommendation of a friend. Bonilla had her first child, Francesca, at South Coast Midwifery.

“I felt so special, pretty and loved,” said Bonilla about the staff at South Coast Midwifery. “Best of all, they empowered me.”

Some may view a birth center as a “hippie” way to give birth explained South Coast Midwifery Founder and “Chief Baby Catcher” Lorri Walker, “but it’s a more personalized way to give birth.”

The center has two birthing suites that look like the inside of a boutique hotel. One room even has a fireplace. Each room has a bed, bath tub and other home comforts. All appointments and blood work are done at South Coast Midwifery. Expecting moms will have two midwives and the staff assisting them on their delivery day.

“I know this way isn’t right for everybody, but I love that we can offer options. We live in Orange County,” said Walker. “We should have options on the way we want to be cared for.”