Why build a $50 million childbirth center when births and the number of women in their childbearing years are both in decline?

Creators of the new Mother Baby Center in Minneapolis, a collaboration of the Children's and Allina Health systems opening Monday, said birth statistics don't tell the whole story at a time of change in obstetrics and neonatal care.

Even if total births decline, births with complications will likely rise because more women are getting pregnant when they are older or have conditions such as hypertension.

The center at Children's Hospital seeks to improve outcomes of those pregnancies by co-locating Children's intensive care unit and specialists with top obstetricians from Allina's Abbott Northwestern Hospital across the street.

Together, those teams can diagnose and prepare for complications rather than wait and react to problems at the time of deliveries, said Dr. Alan Goldbloom, Children's chief executive officer. "When you know what's coming, you can have all of your resources ready to go."

Construction of some kind was going to happen anyway because Abbott's maternity ward was aging, said Dr. Penny Wheeler, Allina's chief medical officer. A renovation was going to cost $41 million because of asbestos issues, and the unit would lack the efficiency of being closer to Children's, she said. (Newborns in need of emergency care are currently wheeled away from their mothers at Abbott and through a long tunnel under 26th Street to get to the Children's NICU.)

"So we actually built a better care model," Wheeler said. "The worst thing we could have done was develop another neonatal intensive care unit across the street, which some had proposed before."

The Mother Baby Center does enter a competitive market in promoting alternative childbirth services such as water births and acupuncture and massage for labor pain.

Stand-alone birth centers in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park and St. Paul have opened in recent years and promoted midwife deliveries along with these alternatives. The University of Minnesota is contemplating a similar center in part to train its nurse midwife students.

Wheeler said these programs aren't redundant. Women with no signs of complications can enjoy comfortable, natural and lower-cost pregnancies in stand-alone centers. But those who want or need medical interventions on-site can receive these services as well at the new center. "This," she said, "is giving the whole spectrum of care in one place."