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New gallery of infant portraits unveiled at Oaklawn's Birth Center

MARSHALL – Smiles beamed across the faces of area parents – and their babies, too – as families gathered Thursday, Feb. 9, for the unveiling of a gallery of new infant portraits in Oaklawn’s Birth Center.

Participants paid particular attention to more than 30 new photos that have been added to the updated display, filling hallways and rooms on the second floor of Oaklawn’s main campus at 200 N. Madison St.

All of the families involved in the three-month process were invited to attend Thursday’s event, and to admire nearly 40 framed photos of their children on the walls very close to the spot where they were born.

“We love it,” said Brooke Squires, who with Justin Morris attended the program with their daughter Kyrah, who was born at Oaklawn on Sept. 14, 2016.

The Battle Creek couple stopped in front of a large color portrait of Kyrah that had been prepared by Marshall-based Craft Photography during a complimentary session specifically for the new display.

The gallery is the project of professional photographers Dennis and Lori Craft, and the reception capped a two-month-long creative process, Lori Craft said.

“Oaklawn’s goal is to show babies always being in a safe environment, whether they’re playing, sleeping or just being adorable,” said Sara Birch, director of the Birth Center.

“Lori and I met to discuss the requirements, she reached out to new parents and the photos were taken at the Craft studio in Marshall,” Birch said.

“I just put it out on Facebook that we needed models,  and people really reached out to us,” Craft said. “It was kind of a challenge to come up with all the ideas, but it was a lot of fun, too.”

“The families were very excited to see their babies’ photos on display,” Birch said.

A focus of several photos in the gallery is the concept of “safe sleep,” Birch said, adding that she and Lori Craft worked closely with Oaklawn Clinical Coordinator Sondra Fettes to determine which of the photos served as the best examples of infant safety.

“A safe sleep environment for a baby is sleeping on the back, without extra blankets or toys, on a firm surface with fitted sheet, no pillows and no propping of the baby,” Birch said.

New mom Brooke Squires said she diligently practices the safe-sleep approach with her new baby, Kyrah.

“I like it. There are absolutely no problems,” Squires said. “You can sleep better knowing that she isn’t going to cover her face with a blanket.”

In 2015, Oaklawn and its staff were recognized by the National Safe Sleep Hospital Certification Program as “Gold Safe Sleep Champions” for their commitment to best practices and education on infant safe sleep. The recognition came from the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Cribs for Kids program, and Oaklawn was the first hospital in Michigan to receive the designation.

The certification was achieved through development of a hospital policy, staff training, parent education and a pledge to participate in ongoing audits, Birch said.

“Every year, babies die from suffocation due to an unsafe sleep environment,” Birch said. “These deaths are preventable. We want to make sure we model a safe sleep environment in our Birth Center and provide safe sleep education for all our new families in order to prevent these losses.”

Oaklawn developed and maintains a safe-sleep policy and provides training on infant safe sleep to staff who work on hospital units that serve infants and children under the age of one year. Oaklawn also provides infant safe-sleep education to parents of infants prior to discharge, and conducts outreach activities related to infant safe sleep.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for our efforts to keep babies safe,” Birch said. “We at Oaklawn are committed to being a community leader and are proactively reducing the chance of a sleep-related death.”

In addition to being Cribs for Kids partners, Oaklawn has been recognized for following safe-sleep guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and providing training programs for parents, staff and the community.

Oaklawn’s renovated Birth Center opened in 2012. Based on the number of deliveries since then, staff expect to welcome more than 800 newborns during 2017. For additional information about the Birth Center and its services, go to www.oaklawnhospital.org or call (269) 789-3929.