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Sunnybrook opens $188-million maternity wing

Mother to be Andrea Van Wieringen (R) and husband Chris Van Allen (C) speaks with Carol Marrs (R), of Sunnybrook during a tour of the operating room. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre set to open Women & Babies Program at the Bayview Campus.The new centre will specialize in high-risk and multiple births and neonatal intensive care.

Dave Chan for Globe and Mail./Dave Chan for Globe and Mail.

It could be the world's most expensive baby gift.

The Women and Babies program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre launched its new $188-million state-of-the-art maternity facility with baby-shower cupcakes and balloons Thursday and boasted about giving Toronto mothers access to some of the best birthing and neonatal-care technology in North America.

Moms and babies, some under two pounds, will be transferred Sept. 12 from their cramped quarters at Women's College Hospital to the 120,000 square-foot Sunnybrook addition that features 20 private rooms and Canada's largest breast-feeding clinic. Operating rooms have television monitors, so mom can watch her cesarean-section baby in the first moments of life, and even if resuscitation or intensive care requires it be treated in another room.

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This moment of separation can be traumatic, says Vicki Steele, Grade 2 teacher and member of the family advisory committee at Sunnybrook. Ms. Steele had a cesarean section with her second child. Because of the screen put up to block her view during the operation, she had to view her son, born premature at 28 weeks and rushed away by nurses, in a photograph.

"My husband had a digital camera he put over the screen and he took a picture. The first thing I saw was a photo of my son," Ms. Steele said.

At Sunnybrook, the ceiling-mounted, closed-circuit TV will be a huge stress relief, "for mother, family and staff," she added.

Jennifer Blake, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Sunnybrook, said minimal stress means labour pain is less intense, and the private rooms for low-risk births help reduce health risks. Private rooms also prevent the spread of airborne illness, and some suites can be locked down and pressurized, in the case of an airborne disease in the facility.

Proximity to Sunnybrook's adult care facilities are an asset in case of any complications for the mother. Ms. Blake said that with the maternal age rising "to a mean age of about 35," medical needs for mothers increase.

But it's not just moms enjoying the perks. "There's a flat screen to watch the hockey game, and a Jacuzzi. It's like a five-star hotel," said Chris Van Allen, a soon-to-be father of two (The Jacuzzi is actually a bath for water births).

Mr. Van Allen's wife, Andrea Van Wieringen, is pregnant with the couple's second child, and has been blogging about her pregnancy on the Sunnybrook website for months. She was invited to cut the ribbon for the new wing with Health Minister Deb Matthews and Kathleen Wynne, MPP for Don Valley West. Ms. Van Wieringen is scheduled to have a C-section in three weeks; her baby will be one of the first born at Sunnybrook, one of about 4,250 babies to be delivered there every year.

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"I'm blown away," Ms. Van Wieringen said of the new facility that also features wall-mounted fireplaces, twinkling LED lights in hallway ceilings, and a spacious family room with kitchen for parents whose premature babies must spend their first weeks in hospital.

Marion DeLand has worked at Women's College Hospital for 28 years, and has seen some big changes in maternal care since 1982.

"We were still smoking cigarettes in the nurses' lounge," she recalled. Now the patient-care manager of the neonatal intensive care unit, Ms. DeLand will help oversee the patient transfer on Sept. 12, from "20 incubators cramped into one room," to "about 120 square feet per patient."

Ms. DeLand is counting the sleeps, she said, "like Christmas."

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