Morris Heights Birthing Center – a rare gem

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morris heights logoOn 8/11/09 a group of 21 physicians and medical students from Montefiore’s Social Medicine program (Family Medicine, Pediatrics and Internal Medicine) went to visit the Morris Heights Women’s Health and Birthing Center.  Located in the southwest Bronx, it is not only one of its kind, but is also turning into an extinct concept in the New York area.  It is the only current free standing birthing center in the metro area offering an alternative to hospital births for women with low-risk pregnancies.  The Morris Heights Women’s Health and Birthing Center was also the first birthing center located in an urban underserved neighborhood, opening its doors in 1989.  The history of birthing centers stems back to the 1970’s with a movement by nurse-midwives to create a place where family-centered normal birth could occur with greater personal attention and less medical intervention.  Birthing centers create a “home-like atmosphere” where the woman, with the support of her family and friends, is encouraged to move around during labor, sit in the Jacuzzi tub, eat and drink, be periodically monitored/examined by the midwife and assisted through labor and delivery.

At the Morris Heights Birthing Center, women receive all their prenatal care from midwives with an OB-GYN available for emergencies or consultations. There are strict criteria to be deemed a low-risk pregnancy to be a patient at the birthing center.  The midwives provide prenatal care, perform the deliveries and initial neonatal physical exam, and see their patients back within 3 days of delivery.  Visiting nurses go to the home to check on mom and baby every day leading up to the first follow-up visit.  There is a connection with Bronx-Lebanon Hospital in the event a woman needs to be transferred for a variety of possible complications (fever, arrest of labor, c-section, bleeding, etc.).  Women stay on average 14 hours after delivery and the hospital transfer rate is approximately 18%. Overall, the notion of birth as a normal process and not a medical condition is what’s emphasized.

As ideal a place the birthing center is for low-risk pregnant women to deliver, it continues to face an uphill battle, especially being in New York.  The historical tension between midwifery and OB-GYN still exists today, but now with a heightened medico-legal arena.  One would think that larger medical institutions would catch on to the economic savings that comes from birthing centers, especially with length of stay always on their minds.  And one would hope women would desire less intervention and more freedom to move around and have their family in the room.  But, alas, in the era of epidurals and scheduled c-sections, birthing centers have more than just the medical establishment to butt heads with – the culture shift among patients who have been socialized to believe in the dangers of birthing and a country where poor outcomes are not tolerated.  Maybe with increased data on improved outcomes from birthing centers and the desire of patients to take more ownership of their medical experiences, Morris Heights can be a model for a new outcropping of a much-needed alternative.

Posted by Arati Karnik, MD

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1 Response to “Morris Heights Birthing Center – a rare gem”


  1. 1Enola Thompson

    I gave birth at this center in 1994 and is one of my most plesant memory and example of giving birth in a room with your family and comfort. I alway use this center as an example in picking a doctor for my future pregancy. I would hate to see this center closed, it in needed in this area,Thank you

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