Cover Stories

Labor of Love: SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital

Every pregnancy is unique, and each expectant mother has different needs and preferences for her labor and delivery. That’s something the doctors, midwives and staff at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital understand. From natural, unmedicated births assisted by a midwife to the most challenging, high-risk pregnancies, the hospital offers a unique spectrum of maternity care and family-centered services to nurture the health of mothers and infants.

“One of the important things that sets St. Mary’s apart is our broad spectrum of care,” says Pam Lesser, director of perinatal services. “We believe in the importance of birth as the coming together of a family unit.” The hospital is known for its care of high-risk pregnancies because of its affiliation with Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and it strives to preserve important bonding moments for the entire family in even the most critical cases. This includes keeping babies and mothers together after birth and promoting skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. Family members can spend the night at the hospital, and NicView, a secure, online video system, allows them to remotely view the baby in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Dr. Gil Gross, a SLUCare maternal fetal medicine specialist, notes that St. Mary’s has one of the lowest rates of Caesarean sections for low-risk, first-time mothers in the country. “Patients with high-risk pregnancies sometimes feel like they’ve lost control,” he notes. “We engage with them, listen to their ideas and concerns about labor and do everything possible to ensure a successful and safe delivery.” Still, the hospital wants patients who require C-sections to have the same experiences as mothers delivering vaginally. With new family-centered Caesarean procedures, the mother is allowed to have someone with her, and a surgical drape with a viewing window allows her to see the birth while keeping the incision concealed. After delivery, the baby is placed on her chest for bonding, and in the recovery room, nurses and lactation consultants help with breastfeeding education.

“Research shows that moms with high-risk pregnancies may have less success with bonding and breastfeeding,” Gross says. “We want to restore normalcy to the delivery and reduce potential negative outcomes.” A sense of normalcy also can help mothers deal with some of the extra stressors that come with potential complications, according to Lesser. “Moms plan for births to be a time of celebration, and we want to promote the most positive experience possible, ” she notes. “We let these women know that they aren’t defined by issues like diabetes or a preterm birth. It allows them to focus on their babies and enjoy the growth of their families.”

St. Mary’s offers a high level of care regardless of an expectant mother’s risk status. “There are plenty of options for our patients,” Gross explains. “The traditional idea is that mothers don’t have much control over the labor and delivery process. That’s not our model.” Lesser adds that the experience is very personalized. Mothers can be actively engaged in movement, choose different positions or birth techniques and have laboring tubs set up in their rooms. They decide who is present with them and even the type of music played in the room.

“We cater to low-risk, natural births, but we can adjust care to fit the most acute patients,” Gross notes. “We’re unique, and there’s no challenge that is too great for us.”

SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital provides full-service, family-centered maternity care. Regardless of a mother’s care needs, doctors, midwives and staff nurture both mother and baby. Pictured on the cover: SLUCare maternal fetal medicine specialist Dr. Gil Gross with St. Mary’s nurses Tierra Dean and Mollie Bolin. For more information, call 314.994.7800 or visit

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography

Pictured above: SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital provides family-centered maternity care.