Three-and-a-half years after its splashy debut in Cary, the Baby+Company natural birthing center has stopped delivering babies after the deaths of three newborns in the past six months.
The spa-like facility that enticed expectant moms with midwives and water-birth pools alerted its customers by email on Friday, March 16, that it would be sending all moms in labor to WakeMed Cary hospital, the birth center's business partner, while it reviewed recent "incidents." On Thursday, after inquiries from parents and The News & Observer, the center released the information about the newborn deaths.
The company said the Cary site has had a total of four deaths since it opened in October 2014. That compares to only one death at its other five centers in three states. According to Baby+Co, it has supported 1,200 pregnancies over its 3 1/2 years in business in Cary.
"Any clustering of events is concerning for all of us," the company said in its email to parents Thursday. "We are working with colleagues from outside the organization to look across these cases and across our systems."
Baby+Co. held four information sessions for concerned parents-to-be on Tuesday and Wednesday and will continue to hold more sessions in the coming weeks. The purpose of the sessions is to explain Baby+Co.'s safety protocols and emergency procedures. Company representatives told those in attendance this week that the halt in deliveries resulted from three incidents, but did not elaborate, citing federal privacy laws.
At least one Raleigh medical practice refuses to do business with the company . "At this time, The Physicians of Oberlin Road Pediatrics have decided not to accept babies who are born at Babies and Company. This is due to differences in our philosophies to the approach of care of the newborn," the practice said on its website.
In an email to The N&O on Thursday, Baby+Co. said the deliveries at its birth center were on a "temporary pause" while it completed "a review of a set of difficult cases." The center also said that it is still seeing clients and will continue to support any moms diverted to WakeMed Cary.
According to the company, it reviews every newborn death in consultation with its partner, WakeMed, and with its accrediting body, the Commission on the Accreditation of Birth Centers.
A WakeMed spokeswoman said the hospital is not involved in Baby+Co.'s decision to halt deliveries, and referred inquiries to the birthing center.
"WakeMed and Baby+Co. are currently evaluating the collaboration and their options for the future," WakeMed spokeswoman Kristin Kelly said by email. "WakeMed always puts patients and their families at the top and will continue to support all mothers and babies, including those that transfer from Baby+Co. for care and resources."
Baby+Co. has also opened facilities in Charlotte and in Winston-Salem, and operates centers in Tennessee and Colorado, opening the first facility in 2013. Care at the birthing centers is provided by board-certified nurse midwives, according to the company.
"While most women with low-risk pregnancies have uncomplicated births, emergent situations unfortunately happen in both hospitals and in accredited birth centers like ours," the company's statement said.
Birthing centers are not licensed or certified in North Carolina, as in other states. Midwives are licensed by the N.C. Board of Nursing and regulated by the state Midwifery Joint Committee. The nursing board has not received any complaints against Baby+Co.'s midwives, said Elizabeth Langdon, the board's administrative coordinator.
The company presents itself as a safe and natural alternative to a sterile hospital birthing ward where delivering moms are treated like patients. Moms delivering in the birthing center can wear their own clothes, bring relatives, music and food, and are not hooked up to monitoring equipment.
Baby+Co. does not accept all pregnant women. Women are screened for risk factors such as a previous C-section, obesity, diabetes, hypertension or other chronic conditions. About 1 in 4 do not pass the test, the company said in 2014.
About 12 percent of birthing center moms nationally develop complications that require hospitalization, and about 2 percent of births develop into medical emergencies.