BILLINGS — Monday was a big day for Montana moms.
"Merry Christmas early," joked Bonnie Smith, the OB Nursing Operations Manager for St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings.
The biggest present under the tree? A $3 million gift from St. Vincent to Montana State University's College of Nursing to fully endow its new certified nurse midwifery program, the first in the state.
"Wow, this is truly a new dawn for Montana and a new opportunity," added Sarah Shannon, Dean of MSU's College of Nursing.
St. Vincent isn’t new to midwifery - the hospital has had a program since 1990. Certified midwives are covered by almost all insurance carriers and are used in about 10 percent of U.S. berths, with increases every year over the last decade. But it’s still much lower than in areas like the U.K. that have numbers in the 60s.
"A lot of patients like the low intervention model in birth plans," Smith said.
Midwives give a patient more control of their birthing options, and many often choose a more natural method.
"We do a lot of jacuzzi water things, meditation, aromatherapy," Smith said, "and really just support their pain plan for what they want rather than just jumping straight to an epidural."
They also are by a patient’s side the entire time throughout labor.
Midwifery students will train for the situation in St. Vincent’s new simulation lab, opened just this last September. Staff says it’s been a revelation to allow students to see how to do things right, and adjust for when something goes wrong.
"When something goes wrong, we can deliver that baby in an emergency situation," Smith said, "but they still are able to have that midwifery hands-on touch."
That hands-on touch starts well before birth and lasts a lifetime, and that’s a key.
"Montana is a great place to raise a family, but it hasn’t been a great place to start families," Shannon said. "Montana has ranked sixth from the bottom in maternal and infant health. We have a chance to change that."
The first eight midwifery students are expected to start in the fall of 2024 and graduate in 2027.