Santa came early for Rebel Larson.

The registered nurse and lactation consultant at Community Medical Center walked into her new "office" Tuesday to find it full with a new desk and the necessary office furniture.

Her department was once on wheels, but Larson and the lactation consulting crew now have a dedicated space complete with a cushioned recliner to help moms and newborns with breastfeeding.

"There are dimming lights and this comfortable chair, it's really important to get them comfy," Larson said.

The lactation consultant room is just one element completed with Phase 1 of CMC's Women's and Newborn Center, which will be unveiled to the public Wednesday.

The $10 million, 14,000-square-foot expansion adds an entire wing to the hospital and includes 18 private suites for new moms and families.

"It's something we've been dreaming about for a long time," said Community Chief Executive Officer Steve Carlson, as he toured the addition Tuesday.

One of Carlson's first stops was a private room, which was roomy, full of natural light and complete with a pull-out couch bed for dads.

Community delivers about 1,600 babies each year, the most of any hospital in Montana. The entire space at the new center was designed with the patients' help.

"Before finalizing any of the mockups of the space, focus groups came in and helped us design the rooms," Carlson said.

The final result is the best thinking from architects and engineers, but also past, current and future moms and dads, he said.

The larger rooms will make it easier for nurses to focus on "mother/baby coupling," Carlson said, a concept to encourage development of an important bond between moms and newborns by keeping the babies in the rooms instead of the nursery.

At the end of the new wing is a large room with panoramic windows and fireplace to help welcome extended families to come to meet newborns and spend time bonding.

Also incorporated in the addition are computer work stations for staff, as Community will switch to an electronic medical records system in September 2012. The system is being vetted now. Once installed, it will allow staff to look at a patient's data from different sites around the hospital.

"We can avoid things like duplication tests because the information is now available," Carlson said.

Eventually, the electronic system will be synced with data from hospitals across the area.

The lactation consultant room is just outside the wing of suites. It was something mothers who participated in focus groups were anxious to add, Carlson said.

Lactation consultant Larson was hoping to finish moving boxes and supplies to the new space from the temporary consultation space Tuesday so it can be ready for moms this week.

Not only do lactation specialists see brand-new moms, but moms having trouble breastfeeding after they leave Community can bring babies back for consultations.

The rest of the CMC addition will open to moms on Dec. 24.

The $7 million, second phase of the Women's and Newborn Center project has already begun. It will include the renovation of Community's labor and delivery rooms, and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Community has been actively updating portions of the hospital for three years, Carlson said. Along with other departments, the Intensive Care Unit has been completely overhauled, from the nurses stations to the rooms. The departments are adding the electronic workspace areas outside rooms along with the renovations.

An addition to the oncology center has also been approved to start come spring, Carlson said.

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