Local maternity units deliver plenty of help for new moms

For hospital staff working in maternity units, their careers are truly a labor of love.

Giving birth for the first time can be overwhelming, to put it lightly. With hormonal changes that can lead to cravings, fatigue and sickness, first-time mothers have a lot to learn.

That’s where the staff at hospitals like Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville and St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam come in, offering classes, consultation and care for everything before, during and after childbirth.

“Your whole life changes. Obviously for a new mom, it’s an adjustment period,” said Kelly Priddle, one of two midwives at Nathan Littauer.

Priddle said working as a midwife is “a very special job.”

“It’s very rewarding. Sometimes I cry right along with them – tears of joy,” Priddle said. “I feel very fortunate. It’s like every time I go to work and deliver a baby, it’s a happy birthday.”

Essential learning

Education and getting involved in childbirth classes is essential for a first-time mom, said Cynthia Pikcilingis, a board certified lactation consultant and certified registered nurse at St. Mary’s.

St. Mary’s offers a number of classes on topics such as childbirth in general, and breastfeeding confidence. There’s a class for siblings getting a new sister or brother, and a number of doctors, nurses and counselors for emotional and physical support before and after childbirth, as well as a prenatal care center.

Both hospitals have recently renovated childbirth areas with private rooms that are more family-oriented and comfortable than the maternity wards of the past.

“It’s not so hospital-like,” Pikcilingis said, adding that the newly renovated space at St. Mary’s – with a cushioned floor so footsteps are muffled – now has a more home-like atmosphere.

At St. Mary’s it’s called The Birthplace. At Nathan Littauer, it’s called The Birthing Center. Both offer hydrotherapy with a tub to help ease labor pains.

Pikcilingis explained soon-to-be-mothers have a variety of choices to help with childbirth before they opt for an epidural, such as the birthing ball, which looks like an inflatable exercise ball, and even aromatherapy.

At St. Mary’s the Beech-Nut cafe in the newly renovated Birthplace provides an area for fathers and labor-support coaches to have a snack and relax while they remain close to the mothers.

Priddle at Nathan Littauer said she loves that The Birthing Center is more family oriented since the renovations finished in 2009.

“Most maternity departments are trying to make labor rooms and post-partum rooms more homelike. It’s something that has come a long way. Our hospital allows the father of the baby to stay the night the woman has the baby, so we can promote family bonding immediately,” Priddle said.

Sarena Chichester, assistant to the vice president of nursing at St. Mary’s, is expecting her first baby – a boy – next month.

“Working at the hospital, it’s been comforting. They’ve all been really flexible, and I know everyone so I’m not nervous to come here,” Chichester said.

For Chichester, the biggest surprise throughout the pregnancy was fatigue.

“You hear people talk about how tired you get, but now I know what they mean,” Chichester said. “It’s an overwhelming feeling.”

A healthy eater anyway, she didn’t have to change her diet much, though ice cream seems to be her main craving – not the traditionally thought of pickles and olives.

Water has become her best friend. Pikcilingis said pregnant women should drink about a gallon of water each day.

“Eating healthy can really help the pregnancy go well,” Pikcilingis said. “Especially when it gets hot like this, it is so important for women to drink water.”

For the first few months, Chichester dealt with morning sickness, which doesn’t always occur in the morning, by eating crackers.

Pikcilingis said morning sickness is a sign of a healthy pregnancy.

“It’s the body’s way of keeping a baby healthy by producing the hormones to keep the pregnancy there,” she said.

Breastfeeding is one of the most important things for a new mom to learn, Pikcilingis said. There are a number of health reasons mothers should consider it.

Breastfeeding can help a woman get back her shape after pregnancy. Research also has found women who don’t breast feed may have a higher risk of developing heart problems and breast, ovarian and uterine cancers. Breast milk helps activate the baby’s immune system and contains live cells that stay in the baby’s body for years. Plus, formula, which is not sterile, can cost a family about $2,000 during the first year and an extra $300 to $400 in medical costs.

The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued feeding for one-to-two years with solid foods added.

Another benefit -it helps mother and baby bond.

“When you go back to nature, you get nurturing. If babies are breast fed, they’re being nurtured through the bonding process,” explained Pikcilingis.

Pikcilingis helps patients continue with the process of breastfeeding with support and education. New mothers can get the support of others who have successfully breast fed their babies and make follow-up visits with a lactation consultant.

This is important because it’s not always easy to get the hang of it.

One woman at St. Mary’s who gave birth to twin boys -Michael and Nicholas -on April 30 urged mothers not to give up.

“If you want to breastfeed, don’t give up on it,” Sharon Mongin said. “It’s really good for them, [baby and mother]. If you need help, get it. Talk to a lactation consultant.”

Get enough sleep – that’s Priddle’s first piece of advice to new mothers.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps, because if [mothers] don’t, they’re going to be very, very tired. We tell them to allow time for themselves. Don’t be afraid to let grandma or a close friend take care of the baby for a little while. New moms tend not to do that. They don’t think of themselves anymore, but they need time for themselves,” Priddle said.

Priddle noted new moms should remember babies cry because they need something. It’s not a call for attention for attention’s sake.

“You can’t spoil a baby – especially newborns. They don’t have that mentality yet. If they’re crying, pick them up because they’re telling you something,” Priddle said.