The joy and pain of designing childbirth spaces—creating an experience-adaptable room

October 31, 2018 Liz Schmitz

Healthcare planners need to focus on creating a uniquely special patient experience for new families


Of all the spaces in a hospital, perhaps the most memorable and life-changing are those associated with childbirth. This is where a new mom finally holds her baby in her arms, a proud father takes the first family selfie, and loved ones wait eagerly to meet the new addition. Memories are made, and experiences are created. As a healthcare architect, it is both a privilege and responsibility to design these spaces for the joy and the pain of childbirth. We are tasked with ensuring that the environment plays a supportive role in the delivery experience while also addressing the clinical needs of mother and baby.

Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to explore the topic in detail alongside experts in their respective fields at a workshop entitled “Reimagining Childbirth Facilities” hosted by the Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and Catalysis, and organized by Mazzetti. Physicians, midwives, healthcare facilities representatives, and many others shared their perspectives and experiences on the childbirth process. One interesting idea explored was an “experience-adaptable” delivery room. In reflecting on this concept, here are some thoughts on what it can mean for women and their families.


Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (formerly Al Mafraq Hospital) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.


Addressing patient experience and clinical needs

We have a wealth of information about designing for clinical needs—infection control measures, medical gas requirements, and properly locating hand wash sinks, just to name a few. The real challenge is combining these medical requirements without losing sight of the experiential needs of the patient including their psychological needs. But what does that mean for childbirth?

_q_tweetable:Women’s preferences, beliefs, and traditions surrounding childbirth can vary greatly with their culture and personality._q_The birthing environment can either support a mother’s physiological needs or be an impediment to them. We want to avoid an environment where the sensory information (sights, sounds, and smells) send the message to a mother that she is sick or in need of “healthcare” when she is, in fact, taking part in a natural process—birth. Our environment should send the message that, first and foremost, this is a normal process, not a clinical one.

The typical design of labor and delivery spaces often focuses on clinical needs such as telemetry monitoring and medical gases comparable to an intensive care unit or an operating room within the birthing unit. Obviously, these things are not necessary in all deliveries. When they are necessary, the mother does not need to see these things overtly. A focus on clinical elements can send a message that childbirth is not a healthy, natural process; and at worst, it can trigger a negative, fearful reaction.

Childbirth is natural and normal. We need to send that message while still providing the ability to address emergency situations. And keep in mind that women’s preferences, beliefs, and traditions surrounding childbirth can vary greatly with their culture and personality. The solution: experience-adaptable patient room.


Florida Hospital for Women in Orlando, Florida. 


What is the experience-adaptable patient room?

The experience-adaptable patient room:

  • Provides mothers with a sense of control enabling them to adjust temperature, lighting, music, and window shades in their room.
  • Minimizes the focus on the hospital bed as natural childbirth does not typically take place in a bed.
  • Keeps equipment out of sight but readily available. Medical gases can be concealed behind art or millwork. Nurse servers can enable stocking of supplies and removal of trash without disrupting patients.
  • Offers comfortable materials that reflect the culture and regionality of the families who use the hospital.
  • Provides space for birthing tubs, showers, Pilates bars, labor balls, and other equipment the mother may choose to use during labor.
  • Allows for access to nature and enables the mother to walk around, should she choose to do so.
  • Accommodates the mother’s family or support team.

As architects and healthcare planners, it is a great opportunity and a welcome challenge to always keep the patient’s unique experience at the forefront of our design process, especially with the many and varied cultural, spiritual, and family traditions associated with childbirth.

Our job is to go above and beyond clinical and operational program needs to ensure that we provide mothers with the most experience-adaptable environment we possibly can. Ultimately, we recognize that each women’s birth experience is as unique and precious as her baby’s footprints.

About the Author

Liz Schmitz

Liz Schmitz is a licensed architect in Texas and has led projects in all stages of design from project acquisition and master-planning through construction. She especially enjoys working with clients to learn about their unique project goals, develop solutions, and facilitate decision-making.

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