Erinn Haley Stephenson, Associate
Having worked in healthcare design for close to ten years prior to becoming a first-time mother, my birth experience not only reinforced design principles applied to client projects but offered a new, fresh, first-hand perspective. With appreciation for the many variables that affect the mother and partner’s overall experience—from the physical surroundings to labour expectations versus the actual outcome, to how supported they feel throughout the process—the following is based on my experience and how it has shaped approach to healthcare design to better support couples in their birth experience.
Evidence supports hospital birthing rooms designed to feel calming and less clinical are associated with good clinical outcomes, less intervention, and an overall positive birthing experience for women their partners and staff. While some design enhancements to the physical space are appropriate for only women anticipating uncomplicated labour and birth, there are opportunities to improve the birthing experience for all and to minimize maternal stress, irrespective of risk status.
While I was in the birthing room and in labour, the appearance of the dissipated. I was most focused on my husband, the nurse, and my doctor. As a healthcare designer, the things I thought would be important to me like privacy, lighting, and storage were not on my radar. What was most important was the support of those caring for me during my labour, for example, access to the things they needed to help me, such as ice, cold cloth, pillows, etc.
Key Takeaway: The birthing room design is all about minimizing maternal stress and creating an environment in which women feel safe, relaxed, and have a sense of personal control during labour and birth. My experience does not change this perspective but further reinforces my view of ensuring that birthing rooms are comfortable, spacious, and hospitable for support people. There should be access to bathrooms near to the birthing, a well-furnished space (an extra bed or place for lying lie down is highly valued by women who have long labours), and access to food, drinks or a place for preparing refreshments. After all, it is a fact that women who have continuous support throughout their labour and birth have better outcomes.
Depending on the hospital, some women will stay in the same room through labour, delivery and recovery, while others will be moved to a recovery room. In my situation, I was moved to a recovery room and the following is based on my experience.
With a focus on caring for the recovery of a mother and her infant(s), best practice for in-patient room design provides: privacy, storage space for both parents and baby, access to natural light and nature, a bassinet which is accessible from standing or the bed, a bathroom designed to support perinatal care, a non-clinical environment yet has access to medical support as needed, and is spacious enough for parents and family to bond.
Unfortunately, my experience was the opposite of what you would expect to find in a modern hospital. Following the birth of my baby, I was transferred to a double room. At this point, I had been up for hours and was aware of my surroundings. The difference between the birthing and recovery room was startling. All of the extra little touches and design features meant to support the mother during labour were nowhere to be found in my recovery room.
The double-room experience gave me a greater understanding and appreciation of how important privacy is in the recovery for any mom or patient within the hospital. The lack of privacy and disruption by the other mom made it difficult for me to rest.
In the bathroom there was no place to keep my personal items, toiletries, towel, or clothing—in fact, it felt like a locker room without the lockers. The lack of storage theme continued into the room. The mess from my bag and clothes spilling onto the floor felt a bit overwhelming and disorganized. A simple storage solution would have gone a long way to minimizing stress and give some control back to mother.
The bassinet for my baby was easily accessible from a standing position, but not from my bed. This made it very difficult to bond without help. This is so important in those early days that it surprised me that the bassinette was not at the same height as the bed, to allow for easy and safe transfers.
The morning after my baby was born, the sun streaming into my room in the morning was very pleasant. This enforced for me that access to natural light and nature aids in recovery. I really enjoyed the “new mom” meeting that was held in the common room. It was nice to meet fellow new moms, their babies and families. It was a great opportunity to meet other people and have a feeling of community.
Key Takeaways: Just as with the birthing room, a mother that feels supported throughout the delivery and recovery process will have better outcomes. The physical layout and design of the in-patient room plays an important role in patient care and recovery. Thanks to my experience, I look for ways to provide: more privacy for double-occupant rooms; enhanced family zones, including dedicated storage, separate lighting controls, entertainment options, and community rooms for new moms while taking into consideration smaller yet important details such as bassinet height and accessibility for mom to safely bond with her baby. The goal is to minimize stress, give more control back to the mother, and look for ways enhance the experience that will benefit both mom and baby.