An increasing number of Utah women are choosing to deliver their babies in facilities other than hospitals.

In the past two years, more than 800 babies have been delivered at the FHP birthing suite - qualifying it as one of the largest volume birth centers in the United States. Although many hospitals have birthing facilities, the FHP center, 1525 W. 21st South, is one of only a few out-of-hospital birth facilities in Utah.It was initiated to in the summer of 1986 to give pregnant women an option - delivering in a hospital or a birthing room.

"The center was established in an effort to offer medically safe, emotionally fulfilling and economic maternity care," said Kathy J. Wingland, a certified nurse/midwife, who has delivered hundreds of babies.

Those mothers who select the birth-suite option must meet certain criteria to qualify as "low-risk." Careful monitoring of both mother and infant begins in the prenatal period and continues through the recovery process to ensure optimal care and safety.

Should problems arise requiring special care before or during delivery, transportation to the hospital and backup services are available. But Wingland said that only on few occasions has a women been transferred, and generally only for non-emergency reasons such as inducing labor.

Some women are so sold on the center that they have delivered their second and third children in the home-away-from-home-like facility.

The birthing suite has four comfortable, private rooms, each furnished with a bed, cedar chest, bassinet and an easy chair for dad. Mom's favorite music can be piped into the room, and her favorite food can be stored in the center's kitchen.

In the adjoining bathroom, there's also a relaxing whirlpool bath for use during labor.

"At the birth center, interventions in the normal labor and delivery process are kept to a minimum," Wingland said. "Women are encouraged to actively participate in the birth, beginning with developing a birth plan in advance of the due date." A variety of birthing classes are available for both mom and other family members.

The women are also encouraged to remain active in labor - standing with support, walking, sitting, lying on their sides or relaxing in the whirlpool.

"Assuming various positions not only makes the laboring mother more comfortable but speeds the labor," said Wingland, who delivered her second child at the center. Other members of the family are also encouraged to participate - especially Dad, who is allowed to cut the umbilical cord and bathe the newborn.

After the birth, the baby remains in the room to ensure optimal bonding with the new family. Siblings too young to witness the birth can be reunited with Mom soon after delivery, minimizing feelings of isolation and sibling rivalry.

Obstetricians and family practice physicians deliver children in the birthing center. But most deliveries are performed by FHP certified nurse midwives - registered nurses who have a master's degree in maternity care. Health care providers not affiliated with FHP whose patients desire a birth center delivery also utilize the facility.

Each, Wingland said, is committed to "providing family centered, individualized obstetrical care with an emphasis on birthing as a normal process."

Mother and baby may leave the birth center approximately 12 hours after delivery. The baby is examined by a pediatrician before discharge, and 24 hours later the baby and mother are visited by a nurse in their home.