New birthing unit with midwives is first on the continent, Markham Stouffville Hospital says

Markham Stouffville Hospital is touting a new unit that gives women the comforts of a home birth, complete with midwives on staff but also quick access to doctors if there are complications, as the first of its kind on the continent.

Specialized rooms have extra options, including birthing pool, special chair for women in labour

Lauren Sledziewski, a mother of three, has used both a midwife and an obstetrician. (Marie-Helene Ratel/Radio-Canada)

Markham Stouffville Hospital is touting a new unit that gives women the comforts of a home birth, complete with midwives on staff but also quick access to doctors if there are complications, as the first of its kind on the continent.

"I'm very jealous," said mother-of-three Lauren Sledziewski as she toured the new rooms at Tuesday's unveiling of the Alongside Midwifery Unit (AMU), impressed by items such as a birthing pool and special chair for women in labour. 

She delivered all three of her sons at the hospital, located at 381 Church St. in Markham, using the help of both a midwife and an obstetrician, and acted as a consultant on the AMU project.

Birthing pools are also a part of the new unit. (Marie-Helene Ratel/Radio-Canada)

"I just think all of it is so designed to help women and their families feel really supported through their labour and delivery."

Markham Stouffville Hospital has used midwives since 1994, but the new AMU gives them their own unit with special tools, plus it allows pregnant women to use doctors if they require them.

The unit has six rooms and is expected to deliver its first baby around the second week of July.

A look at some of the birthing tools at the Alongside Midwifery Unit (Marie Helene Ratel/Radio-Canada)

"It's innovative, it's different and somebody's got to be first," said lead midwife Tiffany Haidon, noting it isn't only a first for Canada, but all of North America.

She said it's the result of obstetricians and midwives working together.

Carol Cameron, executive director of the new facility, said the idea for the AMU was first born more than a decade ago to give an extra option for women with pregnancies considered low-risk who want to use a midwife but not have a home birth. 

Lauren Sledziewski, left, and Dr. Chrystine Peters, centre, were among those who celebrated the official opening of the new Alongside Midwifery Unit. Executive Director Carol Cameron did the official ribbon cutting. (Marie Helene Ratel/Radio-Canada)

She said the unit will be staffed by hospital midwives 24 hours a day, with women in labour bringing in their own personal midwife.

Cameron said women will no longer have to choose between using a midwife and using drugs to assist during delivery.

The rooms at the new Alongside Midwifery Unit are designed to resemble a home more than a hospital. (Marie Helene Ratel/Radio-Canada)

"[A woman] can come here and have a very unmedicated, natural birth on a birthing stool, or she can come here and say, 'You know what, I want to have an epidural,'" Cameron said, explaining that in both scenarios the woman can stay in the specialized unit, which resembles a home more than a hospital.

"I think that's one of the game changers."