The Obstetrics Department staff at Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center are excited about the new baby cribs they have acquired for their nursery center.

Obstetrics Director Amy Lowther called them state of the art. She demonstrated how the crib height can be raised or lowered for any given nurse, short or tall, to accommodate their work with newborns at the facility. The cribs also have drawers underneath them where nurses can store equipment, which accommodates a clean and uncluttered workspace.

The Obstetrics Department also acquired new warmers for infants, in which newborns are placed to be monitored and treated if needed.

"We do skin to skin," said Lowther. "As soon as the baby is born we just give them to mom, we try to do skin-to-skin for an hour. It just helps increase bonding, breast feeding, those kind of things. As much as we can we like the babies to room in with parents. ... It's just proven babies do so much better (with skin-to-skin contact after birth); their body temperature regulates better, their sugars stay normal."

Their adherence to close contact for newborns and mothers also applies to women who have C-sections.

"We do the same thing in there, if mom is wanting to, we do skin-to-skin. Even while they're closing up mom, they can have the baby with them and do that too."

Spouses and significant others are welcome to sit in with a mom in the spacious C-section operating room. Lowther said mothers who get C-sections are operated on in that room and are not transferred to the regular operating rooms elsewhere in the hospital. The mothers are also, of course, housed in obstetrics following the procedure.

Lowther said she is hoping to get more of the new cribs. The old cribs, she said, are in good working order, but having the height adjustment as an option makes it so much easier on her staffs' backs.

Baby cribs may be the newest additions to the department, but in recent years it has undergone multiple aesthetic changes, including changes in the patient rooms that mothers and families occupy during their stay in the hospital.

Located on the second floor of the hospital in La Junta, the 15 obstetrics nurses and staff share a total of 392 1/2 years of combined experience in childbirth care and treatment.

"I've been in the hospital for 31 years," said Lowther. "I was an ICU nurse growing up and then I became the director of the ICU. Then it was, I believe, 2013, that I started being the director of OB."

Lowther said one of her favorite aspects of working in obstetrics is the camaraderie shared among everyone she works with. That, and, naturally, being able to witness the miracle of child birth.

The Obstetrics Department has a seven bed unit. Five of the beds are for standard patients while two rooms are reserved for outpatient observation, Lowther explained. The department also has four beds for mothers in labor.

"A couple of years ago we got new floors," said Lowther. "We have brand new beds, monitors in every room."

The patient rooms' walls are painted a deep, soothing maroon. They have spacious floors with room a-plenty for expecting fathers to stretch their legs, or for little ones to roam. Lowther said they are trying to get up-to-date USB plugins for each private room so that folks can charge their devices a little more conveniently.

"Every room we have is a private room, of course. We used to have double beds in every room, but yeah, they are really pretty big sized rooms," said Lowther. "The other side where we do our C-sections, they are even a little bit larger."

The Obstetrics Department oversaw 159 baby deliveries in 2019, up from 145 in 2018. The department anticipates even more deliveries this year. Lowther is excited at the prospect, and she feels that thanks to department upgrades such as the new cribs and warmers, her team is well equipped to handle the increase in baby births.

"I feel like this floor of the hospital has the most longevity of nurses," she said. "They've all just been here a very long time and have great knowledge. It's very helpful. Our numbers are increasing with the number of babies we're having. ... All of our babies are delivered by Valley Wide physicians. They're all family practice OB docs and I think there's five or six of them, and they do a great job with deliveries."

Nurse Ricky Stwalley, who has been with the department about three years, said her favorite moment working in obstetrics so far was when a father, who was expecting a baby girl, realized the newborn was a boy. Stwalley said she loved how excited new fathers get at meeting their child for the first time; sometimes it makes her want to cry.

Nurse Diane McElroy, who has worked at the hospital 35 years, mostly in obstetrics, said she loves experiencing the different cultures that families bring with them. She said she particularly likes how strongly older hispanic families hold their family values.

She shared an amusing anecdote from "a long time ago" where one inpatient was all about 'Yin-Yang.'"

"But I didn't know that," said McElroy. "Every time I got her ice water, then she'd ask me for hot water. And then she'd pour the two together!"

Lowther took a moment to describe the department's new Best Start program. The hospital can provide baby boxes to families. The boxes work like cribs and serve as a soft, safe place to lay one's baby down.

"Say you have to take your baby over to grandma. Grandma doesn't have a crib or anywhere else to put the baby. You can just take that box and you can lay baby in the box," said Lowther. "It's a nice sized box and safe for the baby. Even if you, like, you need to take a shower and you need your baby in the bathroom with you, just sit the box, just put the baby in the box."

The hospital partners with Rocky Mountain Children's Health Foundation to receive the baby boxes. Lowther added that one does not need to have been a patient with the hospital in order to take advantage of the Best Start program's baby boxes.

"Even patients who don't deliver here, if they want a box, they just have to watch some videos and fill out a questionnaire, and provide us with a number, and we can provide them with that box. It's free."

Another service obstetrics offers is access to a certified lactation specialist. The specialist is almost on call, said Lowther, and will visit people at their homes or meet at the hospital to help mothers struggling with breast feeding.

"A lot of people have contacted her, even people who don't deliver here. It's been helpful," said Lowther.

The Obstetrics Department is a secure facility within the hospital. Its front doors are locked and require approved access to enter, which is primarily to keep infants safe, Lowther explained.

The La Junta Tribune-Democrat is also working with the Obstetrics Department to bring more formally formatted birth announcements to its readers. Keep an eye out for the Oh, Baby! section in Thursday editions of the Tribune-Democrat to get official birth announcements from the hospital.

cburney@ljtdmail.com