Birth is nature’s ultimate miracle, but sometimes the birth process needs a helping hand. This is especially true when it comes to multiple births. “Multiples are particularly risky for both mother and children,” says Dr. Kelly Ross, a pediatrician who specializes in multiple births. “But today, there are many ways to reduce the risks.”
Ross is pediatric hospitalist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and director of pediatric hospitalist medicine at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. “Hospitalists are physicians who work solely in hospitals, giving them a level of on-the-scene expertise that other doctors don’t have the opportunity to develop,” she explains.
But Ross’ most impressive credential, at least as far as her patients are concerned, is that she’s the mother of triplets who were born prematurely. “I know from personal experience how stressful and overwhelming multiple births can be,” she says. “I know what the medical risks are. The Center for Women’s Wellness and Fetal Health at Missouri Baptist Medical Center consistently provides the clinical expertise necessary to support a healthy pregnancy and delivery in at-risk situations, including twins and other multiples.”
Many factors can heighten risk during pregnancy, including a history of miscarriage, maternal age, and fetal genetic conditions such as Down syndrome. But multiple births present special problems, often resulting in pregnancy-induced hypertension, diabetes and pre-term labor. “Of all the births in the United States each year, only 3 percent are twins, triplets or more,” Ross notes. “Yet 20 percent of all very low-birth-weight babies and 25 percent of infants who die in the first year of life are multiples, and the risk of cerebral palsy is 17 percent higher in multiple births.” More than half of twin deliveries occur prematurely, and the likelihood of early delivery increases with each additional baby. “Infants born prematurely with lower birth weights are susceptible to complications such as mental retardation and respiratory distress syndrome,” she adds.
Some of these risk factors are preventable, and most are controllable, with education and careful monitoring of the mother and fetus throughout pregnancy. “What sets Missouri Baptist apart is that we have the expertise to recognize problems and intervene in time to prevent complications, instead of merely reacting to emergencies as they occur,” Ross says. “This gives mother and children every advantage for a successful outcome.”
A collaboration with Washington University School of Medicine, the Center is staffed by experts in maternal-fetal health and newborn medicine. “Everyone here specializes in at-risk deliveries, and our team of genetic counselors, ultrasound technologists, nurses, neonatologists, perinatologists and pediatric specialists is second to none,” she says. “At every high-risk delivery, we have not just the usual delivery team, but a pediatrician or neonatologist and a specially trained nurse who are there specifically for the babies, and if you’re having multiples, we have a team for each baby.”
The Center works in conjunction with the hospital’s specialists in nutritional counseling, diabetes education, physical therapy and social work to meet the needs of each patient. “Emotional support and education are essential,” Ross says. “One child is overwhelming enough, so you can imagine what it’s like to bring home twins, triplets or more. We have prenatal classes for moms of multiples, board-certified lactation experts to help with breastfeeding, and other resources.”
Each labor-and-delivery suite is spacious and tranquil. Amenities include private bathrooms and showers, flat-screen TVs and CD players, and sleeper sofas in suites and postpartum rooms. “It’s beautiful and serene,” Ross says. “Comfort and privacy mean a lot to a mom-to-be who’s enduring the anxiety of a high-risk pregnancy.”
Every aspect of the Center is designed to give mother and babies the best possible chance to survive and thrive, she adds. “It’s a seamless process in which all of us are working toward the same goal: happy, healthy families.”